Engineering, Education, and Infrastructure: Empowering the World's Most Vulnerable

Author: ORCID icon
Remer, Jason, Systems Engineering - School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Louis, Garrick, Department of Systems and Information Engineering, University of Virginia

The first fundamental canon of the Engineer’s Code of Ethics is to ‘Hold Paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.’ This dissertation explores the role of engineering in increasing the ‘safety, health, and welfare’ of impoverished citizens of the developing world from a systems thinking perspective. It explores the functioning of technology and education in improving the lives of those who lack access to the most basic human physiological needs, particularly access to clean water and adequate sanitation. The approach taken is to move from very broadly considering normative scenarios of human flourishing to proposing increasingly specific approaches to reaching this normative state of being.
Global aid is a ubiquitous phenomenon: organizations across the planet undertake efforts to help alleviate the suffering of the poor, but rarely is the macroscopic outcome of our aid efforts considered. To address this and to provide a motivation for continuing global aid, the first section of this dissertation seeks to develop a normative scenario, or a paradigm, for human development. Drawing on, critiquing, and assimilating a number of modern paradigms proposed by thinkers, organizations, and initiatives—EF Schumacher, Amartya Sen, the Washington Consensus, the Millennium Development Goals, Jeffrey Sachs, William Easterly, and others—I develop a new paradigm for human development and provide a motivation for continuing to conduct aid efforts, tempered with cognizance of the unknown impacts of our actions.
In light of the paradigm developed, and those discussed, the dissertation focuses on finding ways to empower local communities, through education, to organically develop technologically and locally appropriate forms of infrastructure to provide for their essential physiological needs, with a focus on clean water and adequate sanitation technologies. Access to such infrastructure is addressed as a necessary, but not sufficient, step towards attaining human development. Vocational Education and Training (VET) is seeing a resurgence across the developing world as a viable aid/development approach; using the core concept of VET, but adapting it for the needs of the world’s poorest to help them locally gain access to water and sanitation, the novel concept of Low-Tech Vocational Education and Training (LTVET) is proposed and developed through a literature review.
As a practical extension of LTVET ideology, the concept of the Community Infrastructure and Empowerment (CIEI) initiative is proposed and explored. The CIEI aims to implement LTVET ideology in impoverished developing communities by empowering marginalized, disenfranchised youth with technical and engineering training suitable for these youth to simultaneously improve their own future employment prospects and to benefit their local community through the infrastructure they will develop. A structure for this program, along with important considerations for it, such as pedagogy, funding, and purpose are presented. Cambodia is explored as an ideal location for the implementation of this program.
A systematic ethical guide to bribery in developing work is provided, as it is assumed that aid workers will likely be required—or at least, requested—to pay a bribe in the course of their work. Drawing on historically accepted ethical theories—utilitarianism, rights ethics, and Kantian ethics—the guide finds that there are times when paying a bribe is the most ethical of a set of unethical choices. Finally, a discussion of the entire dissertation is provided through the lens of systems thinking, drawing on 20 Lexical Components of Systems Thinking and the works of C. West Churchman and Donella Meadows. The CIEI is further modeled and explored from a systems perspective, and a caution against rampant technological development, without regard for intangible human values is given, drawn from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Global Development, Vocational Education and Training, Human Development, Water and Sanitation, Infrastructure, Engineering Ethics, Bribery, Human Development Paradigms, Ethics and Technology
Sponsoring Agency:
Jefferson Scholars Foundation

It is no small task to adequately acknowledge and thank all of the people who have made my work on this dissertation possible. I first must thank my parents, Jason and Gina Remer: from basic reading and mathematics to morals and faith, you instilled the foundations of everything I know. Thanks also to my five siblings, for being a community of peers and friends, teaching me the values of both diversity and unity. Thanks to the Breaults, for being my Charlottesville family, and to Jonathan and Julie Baker, for teaching me that “still waters run deep” and helping me plot my future course. Thanks to Laura for helping me sort through complex theories and the emotions that accompany them. Thanks to my late grandfather, Papa Jack, for instilling kindness—to humans and animals alike—in me during my childhood.
My deepest thanks to Dr. Mark Houck and Dr. Tomasz Arcizewski, for teaching me in my early years of engineering to think beyond the technical models and to incorporate creativity, even stories, into engineering. Thanks to Dr. Esther Obonyo, for planning and hosting my first overseas experience, overseeing my research in Nairobi, Kenya; you set me on a path I had no idea I was to head down but am so glad that I did. Thanks to Dr. Liza Durant, for being an example of a joyful, committed, hard-working teacher and human.
Words cannot suffice to express how grateful I am to the Jefferson Scholars Foundation for their consistent support, both financially and relationally; through you, I have developed friendships with people that forced me to think much more broadly than I would have otherwise. Thanks to Dean Pamela Norris in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, for her support and joyful encouragement over the years. My deepest thanks to Jayne Weber and the SIE staff, for making sure we students stay in line and have everything that we need. Thank you to Professor Yacov Haimes for his care over several years.
Finally, thank you to my committee. To Dr. Tomlinson, for venturing over from the world of education to the world of engineers. To Suzanne Moomaw, for taking your personal time to talk with me about business, growth, and life. To Mike Smith, for helping me to think broadly and introducing me to Wendell Berry. To Bill Scherer, for driving home the value of common sense and for being a practical guide through my entire doctoral experience. Finally, to Garrick Louis, my adviser, for being an example of a patient and powerful man, and for becoming both a mentor and a friend.
In the interest of not writing an entirely separate dissertation to thank everyone who has positively influenced me, I offer a resounding ‘thank you’ to all of you unnamed influences. I hope and pray that I, both through this dissertation and the work to follow, can reinvest what you’ve given to me back into the surrounding world.

Issued Date: