Engineering Servant-Leadership

Reported by Mollisande Williams

Photographed by Bethany Woods

A two-semester course for all junior engineers focuses on an action in which George Fox University (GFU) takes great pride: service. 

Established in spring 2010, this program allows engineering students to come together and find solutions for real-world problems. Various social needs such as poverty, water quality, homelessness, and prosthetics are the focal points for these projects. 

All junior-year mechanical, civil, electrical, and computer science engineers are put into teams of four or five with a faculty mentor to guide and oversee their process. Teams first identify a client to form a partnership, so they can serve their needs. 

Then students use the skills they have learned and work as a team to design solutions to these problems. They develop and present a prototype solution or design report. 

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On Serve Day 2010, engineering professors Gary Spivey and Neil Ninteman conceived of the idea of a program where students could serve those with needs. Spivey wanted to take the question of “How do you help a person?” and turn it into “How do you help people?” through this program. 

By spring, the program became an official course for junior engineers. 

Through Servant Engineering, students learn both the service and business aspect of designing products. “We want to see how we can look at ways to find value in helping others while working for a company,” Spivey said. 

Group topics range from bettering transportation to bettering one’s health. 

Computer engineer Jake Whipple’s team is focusing on developing a product to actively monitor people’s posture. Targeting individuals who sit for long periods of time, this team wants to help alleviate back pain by informing them of incorrect posture before they experience pain. 

Whipple said the class has taught him “a helpful product needs to be about helping the user, not about how cool it is. As a Christian, I want to help others and if I can relieve people’s pain from sitting all day then I am on board!” 

Another problem tackled by a group of students is improving the health and safety of homeless people in Portland.

“Oregon has the second highest rate of unsheltered homeless in the nation, which is alarming considering the harsh weather Oregon faces on a yearly basis,” said civil engineering student Taryn Girard. Girard’s group is designing durable and waterproof socks for those living on the streets.

“Living the life of a servant is what Jesus did his whole life. That’s what we all aim to do, and I think this course instills that into us very well,” Girard said. 

A lot of the teams face obstacles in the process of their designs, but nonetheless keep moving forward. The end results are incredible solutions to real-world problems. GFU’s mission statement says, “Serve with passion,” and the servant engineering program is only one example of many on campus.