Student works with a power saw

Cockrell Engineers Address International Humanitarian Challenges with Red Cross

  • Sep 21, 2021

UT Austin is partnering with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to solve challenges in humanitarian response with engineering innovations.    

Professor Janet Ellzey heads the Humanitarian Engineering Program in the Cockrell School of Engineering.  As part of this program, students may enroll in Humanitarian Product Development (HPD), a course series that spans two semesters and is open to students from engineering, design, social work, and other disciplines in the humanities.   

Guided in projects by IFRC senior officers, interdisciplinary teams of HPD students learn the principles of design, project management, and product development through their work researching, experimenting, and creating prototypes that address the needs of people in underserved communities.   

HPD students are currently working on several products for use in refugee camps: solar-powered lighting systems, a menstrual pad fabricator, and a biodigester that converts latrine waste into fertilizer.    

Seeds for the partnership were planted when William Carter, a Texas Ex working in water and sanitation for the IFRC, learned about Projects with Underserved Communities (PUC), which Ellzey started with James O’Connor from the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering. The program is a collaboration between Texas Global, the Cockrell School of Engineering, and the Steve Hicks School of Social Work.  

Ellzey envisions the IFRC partnership as a mutual learning experience in which student engineers can learn directly from experts in humanitarian response while contributing their technical skills. In return, IFRC obtains creative solutions for technical challenges from one of the top engineering schools in the nation to help them better serve areas in need.    

"…[W]orking with marginalized communities, one of the most common criticisms is that the people doing the design work lack awareness of the situation on the ground,” Ellzey said. "This partnership provides us with on-the-ground knowledge, experience and information."  

Read the full article from the Cockrell School of Engineering.