With the goal of exploring new solutions for environmental challenges, 150 bright young minds from across the continent convened at Cornell from Nov. 9 through 12 for the 2023 Engineers for a Sustainable World Conference.
Engineers for a Sustainable World aims to empower students and professionals to design and implement sustainability projects as well as conduct education outreach across the globe. As the home of the founding chapter, established in 2001, Cornell has seen the organization grow into an international non-profit with more than 50 collegiate chapters.
The national conference featured keynote speakers, breakout sessions, design challenges, a career fair, poster session and awards ceremony. Speakers included Yusuf Jameel, associate scientist at the climate solutions non-profit Project Drawdown; Joanna Bonnett, founder of the Green Jobs Foundation; and Mike Alcazaren, senior technical sustainability product manager at Amazon.
Sitara Sastry ’24, president of the Cornell chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World, said two sentiments were consistently expressed throughout conference discussions.
“First, there is a crucial need for collaboration across disciplines. To take action, we as engineers must work with others to translate our knowledge into action,” Sastry said. “Secondly, ethics are at the center of every engineering and sustainability conversation. Without ethics, we cannot stay true to our mission and code as engineers.”
The speakers and discussion panels aimed to inspire attendees to incorporate new ideas into their respective projects and outreach efforts. Engineers for a Sustainable World has completed over 300 chapter-led projects in 12 countries since its founding. Members of the Cornell chapter have worked on a range of projects, including a collapsible wind turbine that can be stored underground and a reactor that utilizes microwaves to deconstruct plastic waste into carbon nanotubes and hydrogen gas.
Attendees included students from the University of Akron; University of Texas at Austin; University of Buffalo; University of Guelph; University of California, Irvine; Michigan State University; University of Rhode Island; and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. For most attendees, the conference was their first time networking with chapter members from other universities. The national conference was last hosted in 2019 and placed on hiatus until this year.
“To me, the biggest highlight was just talking with students from other chapters, executives from ESW Global, and keynote professionals all at one table over lunch,” Sastry said.
In staying true to the conference theme – “It’s Time to Act: What you can do right now to build a more sustainable community” – organizers chose sustainable merchandise, reusable plates, food composting and other sustainable measures for the gathering. Sastry noted that Cornell certified the conference as a Platinum Sustainable Event.
“Although this theme was promoted throughout our conference, we as a chapter do not want to stop there. We’ll continue to promote these goals through our projects and engagement with our community and other chapters,” Sastry said. “We hope that all conference attendees will do the same.”