UAE varsity students address sustainability challenges


[At UMass Amherst campus, 43 students of four UAE universities attended a four-week summer enrichment programme.]
The Ministry of Education sent the first batch of Emirati university students to distinguished campuses abroad, where they created innovative projects to tackle UAE social and environmental challenges.

Out of the 125 university students who took part in the newly introduced Ambassador+ programme, 74 undergraduate and graduate students were divided among two US campuses of University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) in Boston and New York’s University of Syracuse. The students were selected from 1,224 applicants after a rigorous set of interviews.

At UMass Amherst campus, 43 students of four UAE universities attended a four-week summer enrichment programme that involved interactive team-based classes to discuss the power of ideas and come up with innovative solutions to the UAE’s different challenges in environment sustainability, agriculture, climate change and emergency of green technology.

The students also visited two farms to get a hands-on expertise in urban farming, sustainability and community gardening.

Bushra Rashid, representative of the ministry’s special education department who supervised the 43 students, told Khaleej Times on campus that the programme saw eight projects supported by international professors and experts.

The projects that the students developed in teams of five identified solutions to problems in the three themes of climate change, green technology and imported labour.

Students addressed converting desert land to productive soil; innovating smart device with frequencies that push away red palm weevil; developing noise control sensor to address noise pollution inside offices; introducing smart nets to avoid pool drowning among children; and introducing new car design to reduce accidents in the UAE.

During their visit to the makerspace lab, students were introduced to 3D printing formations to help them implement their ideas creatively.

Fatima Saif Al Ali, second year international relations student at Zayed University who came up with introducing magnets in the front and back of cars to stop collisions and avoid accident injuries, said the 3D learning had been “extremely useful”.

“The programme introduced us to new methods of learning and gave us practical ways to convert an idea into practice,” said Al Ali.

While she plans to submit her idea to universities or different UAE establishments, including Think Science and Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for Small and Medium Enterprises, other students plan to continue their collaboration with international professors at UMass Amherst to implement the projects and bring them to life.

Alia Al Dhaheri, information security master’s student at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University, created a prototype of the noise control sensor with her group to limit noise inside offices and increase productivity. She said UMass Amherst professors are willing to fund it and sell it as a product in the market.

“Creating a network with international experts, who can help us bring these projects to life, has been a highlight of the programme,” said Al Dhaheri.

Students were asked to come up with their solutions after engaging in the “power of ideas” course that helped them examine innovative thinkers, groundbreaking ideas and the strategies that transformed these ideas into effective actions that shape today’s world.

The two-week course, students said, helped them engage in open discussions and showed them the process of developing an idea into practice.

Meanwhile, their supervisor Rashid said the programme aimed at encouraging the youth to work with the government in achieving the UAE Centennial Vision 2071 to make the UAE the best country in the world in the next five decades. “Students gained new experience and developed their communication skills and discipline. I saw their confidence grow by day as they worked in groups to come up with solutions that would solve ongoing challenges in the country.”

Lack of community services

As part of the programme, the “power of engagement” course introduced Emirati students to urban farming and sustainable food grown by communities in the US.

The aim of visits to Springfield’s farms and Nvestra Raice was to engage students in a reciprocal community engagement experience and introduce them to organic and sustainable farming.

Shamsa Mohammed Al Kaabi, urban planning senior at Al Ain’s UAE University, said the UAE lacks community services that target young people in gardening, organic farming and producing healthy food. “Schools must implement the practice of gardening and teach children the health risks of different food,” said Al Kaabi, commenting on the increasing obesity rates that hit over 36 per cent of children in the UAE. Communities in Springfield’s farms grow their own organic food by using chemical-free fertilisers with a sustainable method that soaks unused crops in water for a month before integrating the crops with the soil.

Another Latino community farm, Nvestra Raice in the US, allows residents to grow their own food in small yards. They plant squash, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet peppers, bananas and native fruits of Massachusetts.

Tawaddod Al Kindi, material science and engineering master’s student in Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University, worked on converting livestock waste into energy during the programme. She said such visits will encourage students to propose and implement organic community farming ideas.

Ambassador+ Programme with UMASS AMHERST

> The four-week enrichment programme saw 43 students learn about climate change and green technology emergence.

The power of engagement course

> Students engaged in a mutually beneficial/reciprocal community engagement experience.

> They were introduced to urban gardening and sustainable food and farming in the US.

> They were exposed to different modes of learning

The “power of ideas: theory and practice” course

> Students examined innovative thinkers, groundbreaking ideas and the strategies that transform these ideas into effective actions that shape today’s world.

> Discussed ideas in areas like modes of inquiry, social thought and civic action, immigration, education, science and technology, service and community outreach, entrepreneurship, and the arts.

Makerspace programme

> Students selected an area of research with critical global impact and provided a solution in climate change, green technology and imported labour

> Students were provided with multiple techniques and tools (like 3D printing) to conduct and present their written research and project.

Students speak out

“We need to grow our own food in the country”

“I worked in a group on a project to turn desert land to productive soil in the UAE through using recycled food to produce crops at low costs and get food diversity in agriculture. We visited urban farms in the United States where communities grew their own food, and it’s a practice we will ensure to take home. To ensure food security, authorities must target communities and encourage them to grow their own food. To contribute to planting desert lands, we will be taking our planting project to Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for Small and Medium Enterprise.” – Reem Ali Al Lanjawi, third year student, Zayed University

“Right technology to tackle harsh planting environment”

“Some of us developed the smart device project that will generate frequencies to drive the red palm weevils away from plants without killing the insects to protect the ecosystem. Our environment is harsh for farming, but with implementing the right technologies, we can overcome challenges. With the new agriculture knowledge we gained, we will be engaged in more community services to help increase tourism for EXPO 2020, produce better environment for visitors and achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in food security.” – UAE University students

“We will suggest new courses in our university”

“The power of ideas and engagement courses enabled us to bring our ideas to life and engage in open discussions about the history of the US and the UAE, climate change, social thought and civic action, and science and technology. We will suggest such courses to our campuses as they bring out the creativity of students and entrepreneurs, helping them make a change in their communities and participate in services. The programme allowed us to develop connections with international experts and make decisions to be leaders back home.” – Khalifa University students

Source: Khaleej Times