Lujain Al Ali '20: Social Consciousness Learning Competency

Throughout my four years at UP, I took part in community service to serve elementary school students and members of the houseless population. I took part in the annual STEM fair that UP offers, visited a local elementary school to teach young girls about STEM, and volunteered at a homeless food shelter. During my junior year, I joined a group of students to design a mobile shower trailer for houseless individuals. After completing my service, I was able to reflect on my experience and the importance of looking at the bigger picture of engineering and infrastructure by interacting with members of our society that utilize these systems.

Bridging the Gap in our Community

The NAE Grand Challenge Scholars programs main vision calls for “Continuation of life on the planet, making our world more sustainable, secure, healthy, and joyful (NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program). As engineers, our primary role in society is to find practical solutions to existing problems. Amongst the 14 grand challenges presented by NAE, I am working on restoring and improving urban infrastructure. In today’s society, infrastructure systems connect our communities and allow us to perform our everyday duties. But, just as important as it is to find solutions that will solve problems in our everyday infrastructure, serving our community and giving back is also an important way of learning more about our community and the importance of the projects that are implemented. Outside of the typical engineering classroom, I have spared a portion of my time on STEM outreach and serving the homeless population.

The University of Portland offers great opportunities for outreach by organizing a STEM fair for K-6 students every year. As an engineering student, I believe STEM outreach events are a fun an interactive way to motivate younger kids and allow them to learn more about the STEM field. It gives them a glimpse of what engineering looks like. Sometimes, it is events like this that spark an interest in these students and inspire them to become more motivated and interested in the STEM field. To solve future engineering challenges like the 14 grand challenges, we will depend on the future generation of engineers and scientists. Thus, it is important to expose younger students to the STEM field. Furthermore, as a woman in the field of engineering, I wish to see more girls enter this field. With changing roles in our society, women will play a major role in the engineering industry. Hence, to meet passionate young girls, I volunteered at a local elementary school for “Introduce a girl to engineering day”. I had the opportunity to interact with several girls and allow them to have a hands-on experience by facilitating a workshop. Looking at how excited the girls were to design a catapult was a great sign that they were enjoying the entire process.

Just like STEM outreach, I also believe in the importance of giving back to the community and learning about different groups that make up our society and their needs. As a result, I joined The University FOR Portland team and took part in the Clean Mobile Shower Project. This team’s goal is to build a mobile shower trailer that can be utilized by houseless individuals. After touring a homeless service center and learning about the mobile showers in their facility as well as the needs of the houseless individuals, I assisted my team in creating a design for a mobile shower trailer. I also participated in team ideation sessions to explore and brainstorm different aspects of homelessness such that we can build a project that meets and serves the need of the houseless community. By joining this team, I came to realize the importance of engineering projects and their impact on different communities in our society.

As important as it is for every student to grow inside the classroom, it is also crucial for engineering students to take advantage of opportunities outside of the classroom to grow as individuals and future professionals. Through STEM outreach and community service, I interacted with young elementary students, young girls, and houseless individuals. And by communicating and collaborating with these individuals that come from different backgrounds and demographics, I was able to look at the bigger picture of engineering and its impact on the future generation and the marginalized population. 

Works Cited

“NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program.” Grand Challenges - NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program,