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Engineers for a Sustainable World and a Sustainable University

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Junior Sarah Gruesser tests out a newly built
smoothie bike

College of Arts and Sciences junior Abbie Veitch is done with talking about the pressures of climate catastrophe. She is doing something about it.

Last semester, Veitch became founder and president of the Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) American University chapter, which focuses on leaving a positive impact on the environment and increasing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) awareness at AU and around the District of Columbia. ESW has a special place at American, a generally international relations-oriented university, by focusing on sustainability through engineering. Veitch stresses that one does not have to know too much about engineering to join the new club. “I want ESW to be a fun way people can be involved in environmental science, engineering and sustainability that's not scary or intimidating,” she said.

Clubs are an important piece of cultural atmosphere at AU, and at a school focused on progressive issues such as climate change and sustainability, ESW fills a void, connecting STEM majors and other parts of the student body focused on bettering one collective future.

“The [Design and Build Lab] … seems super intimidating, even though it's not. I think it's just a lot of kids who come in with a liberal arts background think, ‘I can't do that.’ So that's where I think our role will come in,” Veitch said.

Dr. Karen Knee, associate professor of Environmental Science, served as the group’s sole faculty advisor in its early months, but attributes much of the group’s fast start to Veitch.

Abbie was a student in my Intro to Environmental Science class. She was a really good student, really engaged,” Knee said. “She was super motivated and very diligent about getting it done. I was faculty sponsor and came to a few events but, really, it was all Abbie.”

Knee also believes in ESW’s ability to fulfill a need on AU’s campus for a problem-solving based environmental club.

We do have a lot of environmental-oriented clubs that are mostly about political activism and advocacy, and she wanted one that was more about kind of active problem solving and creating practical solutions. And there was a gap, we didn't have any coverage of anything like that,” Knee said.

College of Arts and Sciences Junior and ESW workshop coordinator Fan Tai Bridges says it was her love for the environment that inspired her to join the club. “It promotes sustainability and greener living in a really fun way,” she explained. “I chose ESW because I might as well join a group related to my major.”

She believes in the idea that any steps, no matter how big or small, taken toward climate change will result in positive outcomes. “Everything counts,” she said

Bridges and Knee both appreciate the way ESW allows those not too steeped in the heavy sciences to access something they are passionate about but aren’t sure how to get involved.

“Other fun projects and people are a little bit daunted by math and science classes. But building something with your own hands with your friends is pretty fun, I think. So maybe it'll bring people in,” Knee said.

ESW became an officially recognized club by the university in March 2019. In April, the club already hosted its first build day, where club members and other students helped build a bikepowered blender. ESW plans to use the bike for fundraising – necessary for a newfound club – but Veitch aims for a community-based project next.

“We're hoping to do something community service oriented because our bike was a fundraising project. We were talking about building benches or something along those lines, maybe create a local community garden,” she said. “But next semester we want to focus on growing as a club, establishing ourselves in DC, and establishing ourselves on campus.”