Humanitarian Engineering

Humanitarian Engineering explores the role and application of engineering to disadvantaged, marginalised and vulnerable communities to improve quality of life and support empowerment. It provides a connection between engineering and development, placing human well-being at the centre of engineering practice. The School of Engineering has a number of education opportunities and partnerships with community groups, not-for-profit and social enterprises working on Humanitarian Engineering. The benefits of these opportunities are far reaching with students obtaining a deep understanding of the ways their knowledge and skills can help to advance the well-being of humanity as a whole.


What is Humanitarian Engineering?

In Australia, humanitarian engineering is generally understood to be engineering undertaken with the informed intention to address disadvantage, vulnerability and marginalisation.  This means humanitarian engineers can be working from disaster relief, response and planning, through to long-term community development, both in Australia and overseas  The aim is to improve human livelihoods and independence, and empower individuals and communities to reach their goals and aspirations.  Humanitarian engineers do this by applying their engineering discipline and skills, supported by additional knowledge of humanitarian and development responses and approaches.

What opportunities are available?

Opportunities include:

  • two-week international study tours through EWB Humanitarian Design Summits and Unbound trips. These run every summer and winter, with applications in March for mid-year trips and August for the summer.
  • the Engineering for a Humanitarian Context ENGN3013 elective. This course runs every summer and winter and explores the role of engineers in creating positive impact for a range of short- and long-term humanitarian and development contexts. Short-term international experiences such as EWB Summits can be incorporated into the course to gain first-hand experience of Humanitarian Engineering. ENGN3013 will run in a Canberra-based intensive mode during the 2020 winter.
  • research and development projects with a Humanitarian Engineering focus. Can be undertaken for final year individual or group courses or as part of R&D projects. These typically work with one of our community or for-purpose partner organisations in Australia or overseas. These are authentic projects where your research is contributing directly to the partner organisations work.
  • the four-course Minor in Humanitarian Engineering. Commencing in 2019, this minor integrates the ENGN3013 course with subjects from other parts of the ANU to provide more knowledge of humanitarian and development work and contexts. It helps to build multi-disciplinary skills to allow you to work effectively in complex cross-disciplinary contexts to achieve positive impact.
  • the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenge Scholars Program aligns with many of the Humanitarian Engineering opportunities and the Minor. This certificate program allows you to graduate with an additional professionally accredited certificate from the NAE, to demonstrate your ability to work as a holistic engineering in the 21st century.

Who do we work with?

We have a number of community and social-enterprise partners. These include:

  • Abundant Water (AW) working in Laos, Nepal and Timor-Leste to provide access to clean drinking water through ceramic water filters. 
  • Enable Interactive and Gecko Traxx social enterprises working towards greater empowerment and inclusion of people with disabilities. 
  • Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB) working towards creating social value through engineering.
  • Okra Solar supporting the development and use of off-grid energy networks.

Abundant Water, Enable Development and Okra were all founded or co-founded by ANU engineering graduates, highlighting the potential of ANU engineers to create lasting and positive social change.

How to get involved?

Include your experience as part of your degree

These experiences can be incorporated into courses like ENGN4200, ENGN2706, ENGN4712, ENGN4221, ENGN3100/3200 or ENGN3013.

Who to contact to get involved

For further information or to express your interest in opportunities, contact Jeremy Smith.

Available funding to support your experience

OS HELP, as well as short-term scholarships from the Federal Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFTA) New Colombo Plan (NCP) (depending on availability) are available to students. Opportunities typically arise every 6-months, in March and August for study tours.

Previous experiences

The first cohort of Humanitarian Engineers

Sarah's trip to Cambodia

Tom’s research in PNG

Lucy’s EWB Summit to Nepal

What impact can I have?

Humanitarian engineers use the full range of their engineering skills, supported by additional knowledge in humanitarian and development work, to create positive change and impact.  As a student, you could be working with a social enterprise to assess the feasibility of a new technology or product for a specific application or working with an individual or community on an idea or concept they have developed, sharing your engineering knowledge and learning from others.  Through your work, you are making the strengths and resources of the ANU, as well as your own knowledge, inspiration and motivation, available to partners, communities and individuals.  

How does Humanitarian Engineering relate to all engineering?

Humanitarian engineering provides additional skills, knowledge and experiences that can be applied not only in development and humanitarian contexts, but to any engineering work.  It equips engineers to work in cross-disciplinary teams, undertake stakeholder engagement, think creatively and assess and evaluate the impacts from engineering and technology.  As the peak professional body for engineering in Australia, Engineers Australia, states in their purpose Engineers Australia shapes the future of Australia - creating happy, healthy, prosperous and sustainable communities, meaning the learning from humanitarian engineering is central to all engineering in the 21st century.

What requirements or courses can the EWB Summit count towards?

The 2-week overseas EWB Humanitarian Design Summits can contribute to your course requirements in a number of ways.  This includes as part of a research project (such as ENGN4200 Individual Research Project), background for a system design project (ENGN4221 System Design Project), for work experience (the ENGN3100 requirement), and the elective Engineering for a Humanitarian Context course.  If you are receiving a New Colombo Plan (NCP) scholarship, the EWB Summit will have to count for a non-0 credit-bearing course, so any of the options except ENGN3100.  ANU currently has NCP scholarships for EWB Summits to Cambodia and Nepal, as well as scholarships for Laika Academy’s Design for Social Change program in Thailand.

Who can I talk to about studying Humanitarian Engineering?

The ANU humanitarian engineering program is led by Research Engineer Jeremy Smith.  Many members of the ACT Chapter of Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB), are studying humanitarian engineering at ANU, and can share their experiences.  You can talk to graduates from ANU engineering working as humanitarian engineers, some of whom have started their own organisations, such as Abundant Water and Okra.  You can read stories of ANU engineering graduates such as Rebecca Watts and Huy Nguyen at

What expertise does ANU have in Humanitarian Engineering?

The ANU is one of the leaders of humanitarian engineering education in Australia.  It was the first university to offer a dedicated humanitarian engineering elective and had students on the very first EWB Humanitarian Design Summit in January 2015.  Educators such as Jeremy Smith have been recognised through awards including a national Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) citation for leadership in nurturing the field in Australia.  Much of the research in engineering at ANU has applications in humanitarian contexts, ranging from solar energy for electricity, drones for disaster response and planning, and mobile phone based health technologies.  The ANU is a world leading university in development studies, climate change and public policy, areas that are part of the broader knowledge of a humanitarian engineer.

What are career opportunities and pathways are there with Humanitarian Engineering?

Humanitarian engineering opens many opportunities and career pathways.  ANU engineering graduates have volunteered with organisations including Engineers Without Borders Australia and established their own social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations, such as Abundant Water and Enable Development.  Other graduates have worked for engineering consulting and project management companies and deference.  These organisations recognise that humanitarian engineers have an enhanced set of skills to apply to all engineering work including technology development, creativity, communication, stakeholder engagement, and teamwork.

How can I study Humanitarian Engineering?

Humanitarian engineering is studied in parallel to a base engineering discipline.  Humanitarian engineering projects and topics are available through engineering core and elective units, to allow you to apply your engineering studies and discipline major to a range of humanitarian contexts.  The Engineering for a Humanitarian Context elective provides specific knowledge on humanitarian engineering, and is good background for undertaking research (for example through ENGN4200 or a BE (R&D) course) or internships in the area in later years.  Other electives from across the ANU provide further knowledge in areas including development studies, languages, cross-cultural engagement, disasters and health.  Engaging in humanitarian engineering studies may also contribute to recognition as a NAE Grand Challenge Scholar, through the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenge Scholars Program.  The ANU is the first Australian university to join this program, which recognises a student with an additional certificate from the NAE for their contributions to some of the most complex challenges facing engineering and the world in the 21st century.  Numerous study abroad opportunities are available at ANU, from involvement in the EWB Humanitarian Design Summit and Laika Academy’ Design for Social Change programs, to field schools in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Pacific, all of which can contribute to your studies, and many of which are supported by New Colombo Plan (NCP) scholarships for eligible students.

Updated:  10 August 2021/Responsible Officer:  Dean, CECS/Page Contact:  CECS Marketing