A new kind of development professional: The development engineer

By Catherine Cheney 23 September 2015

Sonia Travaglani and Emily Woods hold up two very different research studies on handwashing assignments outside the UC Berkeley course on Development Engineering.

Students gather in groups of three. At the back of the classroom, there are plastic bins with glue sticks, colored paper, and ribbons. The focus for class today is how we wash our hands. Believe it or not, this is not a kindergarten class. These students will use the arts and crafts materials for design thinking exercises to address some of the biggest challenges facing our planet. Welcome to development engineering, a course for Ph.D. students at the University of California, Berkeley.

At Berkeley, engineers and computer scientists are in the same rooms as economists and political scientists, working together to test, implement and scale technologies in a way that can reframe global development as we know it. As momentum grows behind development engineering as an interdisciplinary field in academia, Devex spoke with some of the students, faculty, and alumni who are shaping this story.

With $20 million in support from USAID for global development initiatives at UC Berkeley, the Blum Center for Developing Economies and the Center for Effective Global Action are working together to formalize development engineering as a field of research. They have taken steps including to the creation of a “Designated Emphasis,” or graduate minor, and are working on a “Development Engineering” journal expected to launch by the end of the year.  

Read: Engineering jobs in development: What you need to know

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About the author

Catherine cheney devex
Catherine Cheneycatherinecheney

Catherine Cheney covers the West Coast global development community for Devex. Since graduating from Yale University, where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in political science, Catherine has worked as a reporter and editor for a range of publications including World Politics Review, POLITICO, and NationSwell, a media company and membership network she helped to build. She is also an ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network and the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute.

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