Several months ago I received an email from Arizona State University (ASU), School of Engineering student, Vid Micevic, who came across our UNDP-Nesta Renewable Energy Challenge.
He wanted to spend a part of his university education working on the challenge.
The deadline for submitting the ideas for the challenge was just up, but working with the university’s engineering school was an opportunity we didn’t want to miss.
So never being short of real-life problems, UNDP came up with one that Vid can put his energy and mind to and we never looked back!
He was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about his plans, and still early experience of working with development organizations.
Question: You’re a student at the Arizona State University, School of Engineering. Have you always wanted to be an engineer?
VM: Yes. I have always wanted to solve problems—both big and small. Ever since I was little, I was curious about the way everything works, and why everything works.
I have a degree in Sustainable Civil Engineering, have always been passionate about the environment, and grew up being conscious about my impact in the world.
One burning question for me is how to create a world where future generations will remember us with gratitude rather than with sorrow.
ASU provided a good mix of engineering curriculum and an opportunity to apply knowledge to real world problems that could help us create a more sustainable world.
Q: As a part of your programme, you participate in the Engineer Projects in Community Service (EPICS) programme at ASU, where students get involved in solving real-world problems. Tell us a bit about the programme itself?
VM: Founded at Purdue University, EPICS is a national award-winning social entrepreneurship programme offered only at the ASU’s School of Engineering.
Teams design, build and deploy systems to solve engineering-based problems for charities, schools and other not-for-profit organizations.
What could be better than getting a group of aspiring engineers together determined to solve problems and create solutions?
Our courses use an innovative, technology-based approach to very old problems—access to clean drinking water, or providing nutritious food in remote villages.
We don’t take an off-the-shelf solution; we are looking for big-picture, breakthrough thinking. The project teams address needs in the Phoenix metropolitan area and around the world in places like Bangladesh, Malawi and Fiji. Here at ASU, the students aren’t waiting to graduate to make a difference—they are tackling real-world problems today.
Q: What prompted you to reach out to UNDP?
VM: During my first day in EPICS, my mentor shared a list of community partners that had problems needing solutions.
I wasn’t interested in any of them because I thought there were bigger problems out there that needed to be solved. I remember stumbling upon a UNDP-Nesta Renewable Energy challenge – which aimed to create an off-grid energy and water source for rural homes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This was exactly the type of project I wanted to work on. I’m a native to Bosnia and Herzegovina – an additional motivation.
So, I contacted UNDP asking if they needed any help from a group of motivated undergraduate engineers from ASU and to my disbelief, the response I received was so gratifying we immediately Skyped, trying to figure out what projects my team could help solve.
After months of early morning calls and talking to UNDP colleagues in several countries, I decided that issues UNDP in Croatia was working on provided a good challenge for my team. To this day, I’m still pinching myself to make sure that I am not dreaming….
Q: Tell us a bit more about your work with UNDP in Croatia?
VM: Currently, I am working on their Environmental and Energy Efficiency portfolio to help Ostrog elementary school become the first energy independent school in the world – the crowdfunding campaign to support this goal is still ongoing.
My role in the project as the leader of my EPICS team is to design and create a biomass heating system that will use olive pomace from the olive trees on the campus to heat the school instead of using imported oil – a solution that is both cheaper and more sustainable. My work will intensify this summer, as I will intern with UNDP in Croatia and work with energy cooperatives throughout the region.
Q: Based on this experience, what tips would you give to development organizations in approaching students like yourself for collaboration on similar projects?
VM: Many students are eager to get involved and are looking for hands-on experience.
So, a tip to development organizations – give them a chance. Give them an opportunity to show you how passionate and motivated they are to help.
As long as development organizations cultivate and empower students to go out there and try, then each student starts to recognize his or her potential.
They will bring vigour to the organization with their energy, young innovative mindset, and determination.
Above all, invest the same positive energy back into the students, and it will only motivate them to go further and push their own boundaries while helping progress the organization.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
VM: Well…I have no certain plan yet as I don’t know what the next few years may bring. My ultimate dream is to be on the frontlines giving equal energy access to developing communities across the world in a sustainable manner.
Energy infrastructure, renewable energy, and eco-housing are all fields I would love to pursue.
While I may be tempted to go to graduate school, chances are I will be too eager to get my hands dirty and fulfill my dream of solving problems in the real world.
Who knows what might happen? It is this uncertainty that keeps me prepared and open to new opportunities. All I know is that right now I have a passion for working with UNDP, and it is definitely the right direction for me. The future will unravel itself.