Bethany Gordon, an engineering student at the University of Virginia, US, has won a unique podcast competition looking at how engineers can improve people’s lives.

Bethany’s How to change the world podcast shows listeners how engineers could use virtual reality to experience life in a temporary home in a shipping container in rural Armenia, the former Soviet republic that suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 1988. She proposes that, armed with this knowledge, engineers from around the world could collaborate remotely to crowdsource practical solutions to such humanitarian crises.

Over 150 students took part in the How to Change the World podcast challenge, run by UCL’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (UCL STEaPP) on behalf of the Royal Academy of Engineering. The podcasts were all made at the Global Grand Challenges Summit in Washington DC last month, which was jointly organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering with the US and Chinese academies of engineering, The Summit brought together science and engineering professionals and students from across the three hosting countries.

A moving and effectively communicated podcast made by Yun Gu (Peking University) and Katie Brown (Auburn University) was selected as the runner-up. Their recording looks at the barriers to women entering the engineering profession and how to tackle this issue.

Bethany Gordon, Yun Gu and Katie Brown will all receive fully-funded attendance at the next Global Grand Challenges Summit in London in 2019, organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

From raps to high-profile interviews, formal presentations and live discussions, the students translated their ideas into audio in a range of ways, covering topics from providing access to clean water, to public engagement, and eco-friendly digital technologies.

The judges included: US National Academy of Engineering PR chief Randy Atkins, ITV News science correspondent Alok Jha, ITV; Nature Jobs reporter Jack Leeming, Economist writer Oliver Morton and Yannis Yortsos, Dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

“The audio element of the challenge really pushed the students to present their thoughts in a succinct and publicly accessible way. The teaching and judging teams were really excited to see how the students chose to communicate their ideas in a compelling way,” explained Dr Jason Blackstock, Head of Department at UCL STEaPP and director of How to Change the World.

Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Deputy Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says: “Congratulations to these students for producing such fantastic podcasts. They have taken discussions from the Summit, and developed them into thought pieces that show clearly how the student and professional STEM community can contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“We believe that the Summit and the How to Change the World challenge have inspired the next generation of researchers and innovators to apply their talents to engineering a better world, and we hope to harness this momentum for the next Global Grand Challenges Summit in 2019.”

Notes for Editors

  1. The How to Change the World Student Challenge at the Global Grand Challenges Summit 2017 saw over 150 students explore solutions to the National Academy of Engineering's Grand Challenges for Engineering in Washington DC. Students from the US, UK and China worked in teams to create innovative audio or video podcasts.
  2. Listen to the winning and top ten podcasts here:
  3. The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research and innovation that addresses the global issues faced by developing countries. It harnesses the expertise of the UK’s world-leading researchers, focusing on: funding challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research; strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange; and providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research or on-the-ground need. It is a £1.5 billion fund which forms part of the UK Government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment and is overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through 17 delivery partners including the Research Councils, the UK Academies, the UK Space Agency and funding bodies.
  4. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

We have four strategic challenges:

- Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
- Address the engineering skills crisis
- Position engineering at the heart of society
- Lead the profession

For more information please contact:

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering

T: 020 7766 0636

E:  Jane Sutton