NUI Galway Engineering students making a difference to their communities

Monday, 28 February 2005

Engineering students at NUI Galway have shown that there's more to the life of a student than passing exams and having a good time. As part of the new Engineering in Society module offered to third-year Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering students, participants developed devices for the physically impaired, provided assistance with mathematics to school children and helped out in voluntary organisations, including Oxfam, Amnesty International and Enable Ireland.

A poster exhibition entitled Engineering in Society and Community Outreach, describing their work takes place this week in the Arts Millennium Building. The Engineering in Society module is an intrinsic part of the academic programme taken by all 60 students in the third-year Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering programme. It is designed to encourage students to commit some of their time and energy to the benefit of local communities and individuals outside the family.

This module is also supported by Lorraine McIlrath, Staff Developer, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Training (CELT),who described the work undertaken by the Engineering students "as a massive achievement and a great inspiration to staff and students locally and nationally".

"This is a wonderful opportunity for the students to put something back into their communities", said Professor Abhay Pandit, co-ordinator of the initiative. " 'Service Learning,' where students use their skills to improve the lives of others is commonplace in American universities but is a relatively new concept in Ireland. In our programme, students were asked to identify a need in their locality and volunteer twenty hours of assistance towards assisting with that need."

The students used their engineering skills directly in two of the projects. In one, a simple can-opening device was designed for people suffering from severe arthritis, which made many every-day tasks including opening cans extremely difficult. "By making life a little easier for arthritis sufferers, we felt that we had put something back into the community by using our practical engineering skills," said student Rory Duggan.

Niamh Mahony and Ciaran Costello designed a device to help people who suffer from arthritis or broken bones, to put on their shoes. "It's a simple device," said Niamh, "but it helps to relieve the pain of putting on a shoe and it also provides an element of independence the sufferer hitherto did not enjoy."

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