Spotlight: Program Series with Dr. Stephanie E. Chang
Future proof: An education for professionals who want to make cities more resilient
By Stephanie E. Chang, Co-director of UBC’s Master of Engineering Leadership in Urban Systems
Our future is increasingly urban. We must find better ways to design, build and manage our urban infrastructure so that it can not only reduce the impacts of cities on the environment but also withstand the stresses of increasing populations, limited natural resources, and disasters like earthquakes and floods.
My research over the past two decades has explored the role our infrastructure systems can play in disaster risk management. When cities lose electric power, for example, this can quickly disrupt other critical infrastructure ranging from water systems and communication networks to hospitals and traffic signals, which impedes emergency response and hampers disaster recovery. This also means that addressing infrastructure vulnerabilities and interdependencies before a disaster can be some of the most effective – and cost-effective – approaches to making cities more resilient. With every disaster I study, I become ever more convinced that well-designed and managed urban infrastructure systems are essential to making communities more disaster resilient.
We know that disasters will happen. It is neither technologically feasible nor economically desirable to completely disaster-proof our cities. There are many other areas where we need to invest our resources to achieve social benefits. Finding the appropriate trade-off requires us to weigh technical, social, economic and environmental issues.
Learning from past disasters and building greater resilience into the design, construction, operation and maintenance of our urban infrastructure requires people who can address these issues from multiple perspectives. Our cities need analytical systems thinkers who can confidently bring technical, environmental, social and economic considerations to these complex transdisciplinary challenges.
As a co-director of the Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) in Urban Systems program at the University of British Columbia, Canada, I’m helping guide the next generation of professionals who will lead the change that is needed. Our program is a unique collaboration of academic departments, bringing together the Faculty of Applied Science – in particular, the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) and the Department of Civil Engineering – and the UBC Sauder School of Business. What this means for our students is that they’re graduating with stronger technical knowledge, an understanding of the social context for the design and management of urban systems, and a foundation in business.
The technical courses give students the tools and skills to address complex infrastructure problems. Our students gain an understanding of how policies regulate urban systems, and they study the wide-ranging considerations that go into designing, constructing, operating and maintaining our built infrastructure. They explore how our cities’ infrastructure contributes – both positively and negatively – to social, economic and environmental impacts. And much of this learning happens through collaborative industry-led projects where students work in teams to address real-world problems.
But what truly sets our program apart from a traditional master’s degree is the integration of courses on business foundations, strategy, project management and data analysis. Our industry partners tell us the skills developed through these classes create well-rounded professionals with the technical perspectives and business insight to make strategic decisions, lead teams and manage complex and evolving projects.
Our program is also innovative in allowing professionals to shift and expand their knowledge base. We have civil engineers who want to explore urban planning and we have urban planners who want to learn more about technical systems. We’re giving early- and mid-career professionals an opportunity to broaden their horizons and gain new skills they’ve not had the chance to develop in either their first degree or their professional careers.
Learn more about how the MEL in Urban Systems can help you lead change in your industry, giving you the technical knowledge, foundational business skills and leadership confidence to excel in your career. UBC also offers the MEL in other sector-specific programs, including advanced materials manufacturing, clean energy engineering, dependable software systems, high performance buildings, integrated water management, and naval architecture and marine engineering.