Diverse in Discipline and Distance, United in Ambition: Meet the New M.DevEng Cohort!

Integrating her background with her education, Andono aims to center the environment when creating architecture, from its design process, construction, and operation, to create lasting, sustainable change.

The students of the cohort come from various backgrounds and disciplines, yet find commonality in wanting to use their education to innovate and create change in low-resource areas across the world. (Photo by Alisha Dalvi)

By Alisha Dalvi

When the pandemic forced Kristi Andono to move back home to Jakarta from Los Angeles during her undergraduate education, she was able to turn adversity into opportunity and take on a brand new role — the head of the Corporate Social Responsibility team for the Indonesian Energy Corporation. As she balanced taking classes online to fulfill her real estate and architecture degree, she was simultaneously designing shelters for victims of gender-based violence in remote villages, renovations for disintegrating orphanages, and infrastructure for water accessibility. “Growing up in Indonesia has exposed me to degrading environmental conditions and its constant battle with economic growth, where one has to be sacrificed for the other,” Andono said. Integrating her background with her education, Andono aims to center the environment when creating architecture, from its design process, construction, and operation, to create lasting, sustainable change.

From left to right, Esther Mburu, Diane Kabanyana, Martin Ssemulugo, Anjali Ravunniarath, and Charity Fang stand together in an ice breaker activity during orientation where they learn the numerous countries their peers are from. (Photo by Chetan Chowdhry)

Looking to equip herself with new skills to become a holistic changemaker, Andono applied and was accepted to UC Berkeley’s Master of Developmental Engineering program, housed at the Blum Center. This three-semester professional degree is a new program that attracts students across various fields, from business to engineering to economics, to develop technological advancements that address the needs of low-resource communities across the world.

Andono and 32 other students in the new cohort — the program’s second ever — attended the masked-up M.DevEng orientation on August 23. Through an interactive presentation, students gained insight into UC Berkeley as well as the program specifically. Afterward, students had the chance to mingle and meet for the first time, get to know M.DevEng staff, and go on a tour of Blum Hall — their new home for the next 15 months. This cohort is only the second in history, making them pioneers in the discipline and a fundamental group to shape the future of the program and the field.

Blum Center Faculty Director Dan Fletcher welcomes the new cohort during orientation in a speech that highlights UC Berkeley as a place of initiative, support, and creativity. (Photo by Alisha Dalvi)

“The M.DevEng program is the shining star of educational activities at the Blum Center,” said Dan Fletcher, the center’s faculty director. “It is about finding creative people with initiative, who support each other, bringing them together, and tackling real problems.” Students of the new cohort will take three semesters of development engineering classes as well as elective classes focused on their concentration area, along with one summer internship in between. But the development engineering classes don’t follow one discipline; rather they center around “research and practice that combines the principle of engineering with economics, entrepreneurship, design, business, and policy,” said Yael Perez, the director of Development Engineering programs.

Director of DevEng programs Yael Perez shows the new cohort the new room dedicated to the M.DevEng program, located at the Blum Center. Students can look forward to a space to collaborate and use the new coffee machine! (Photo by Alisha Dalvi)

That multidisciplinary element is essential to the program. During the orientation presentation, students were asked one word to describe developmental engineering. “Interdisciplinary” was the most common, appearing the largest on the computer-generated word cloud. The integrative approach of the program is especially important for Ash Seth, a product designer from Dubai who pursued a mechanical engineering undergraduate degree at Stanford University and who values the intersection of technology and social impact. As a designer herself, she has prototyped and tested affordable greenhouses for hundreds of smallholder farmers in India. But, as a strategist for an urban design nonprofit, Seth also understands the significance of dialogue across numerous disciplines, from scientists to policy specialists.

Diane Kabanyana, a business and economics major from Rwanda, is not only excited to learn from her peers through their previous academic endeavors, but from the various countries and backgrounds they come from as well. “I’ve only been here a week, but Berkeley is so diverse!” Kabanyana said. “I live at International House and it seems like every country is represented.”

The new M.DevEng cohort itself is composed of students from over 10 different countries. But being an international student is certainly not a prerequisite. Rachel Dersch is an energy engineer from Michigan. While Dersch has developed solar power projects in Peru and Tanzania, both still up and running today, she also found the need for energy consumption reduction in her own community. By spearheading pilot programs and technology demonstrations, Dersch has been able to work to reduce energy waste in Michigan. When looking to further her education in humanitarian engineering, Dersch found that development engineering is not just a new curriculum, but a new concept in colleges all together. The M.DevEng stuck out as one of the few existing programs that was truly targeted at creating impact in low-income communities. And it didn’t hurt that it’s offered at the top public university in the nation.

On a bright and pleasant day, the new cohort is taken on a tour of the Blum Center during orientation. The new Berkeley residents continuously mention the beautiful weather the Bay seems to have! (Photo by Alisha Dalvi)

Yet for all the diversity in the cohort’s educational and cultural backgrounds, one statement seemed to unite them all: “The food in Berkeley is so good!”

With students already raving about Boichik Bagels, just a few blocks away from campus, and local coffee shops, the new cohort seems to know where to fuel up before tackling projects which will make a meaningful and measurable impact on low-resource communities across the world.

Q&A with Blum Center’s Chief Economist, Brad DeLong, on his new book, Slouching Towards Utopia

Economics Prof. Brad DeLong discusses his new book, Slouching Towards Utopia, and the promises and failures of the prosperity created during the “long twentieth century”.

Courtesy of Brad DeLong

Economics Prof. Brad DeLong discusses his new book, Slouching Towards Utopia, and the promises and failures of the prosperity created during the “long twentieth century”

By Anehita Okojie

In his new book, Brad DeLong, a UC Berkeley professor of economics and the Blum Center’s chief economist, offers an extensive account of the economic history and technological advancements of the “long twentieth century” — 1870 to 2010. Slouching Towards Utopia presents a “survey of the monumental transformations — and failed promises — brought about by an extraordinary rise in prosperity.”

Released Sept. 6, Slouching Towards Utopia has already been nominated for Best Book of the Year by the Financial Times

“What a joy to finally have Brad DeLong’s masterful interpretation of twentieth-century economic history down on paper,” Christina Romer, a professor of economics at UC Berkeley wrote.  “Slouching Towards Utopia is engaging, important, and awe-inspiring in its breadth and creativity.”

“One thing I hadn’t fully realized until reading Slouching Towards Utopia,” wrote Paul Krugman, “is the extent to which progress hasn’t brought felicity. Over the 140 years surveyed by DeLong, there have been only two eras during which the Western world felt generally optimistic about the way things were going.” 

“DeLong puts together the puzzle of the past to tell a story of remarkable achievements as well as setbacks,” wrote Minouche Shafik, director of the London School of Economics, calling the book “a great way to understand the forces that have shaped the world today.” 

Prof. Brad DeLong

The Blum Center caught up with DeLong to discuss his newest book.  

What inspired you to write this book? 

The idea that, as far as humans’ lives were concerned, the big game-changing moment in economic history was not the 1770 coming of the industrial revolution, but rather 1870; the belief that somebody ought to write a history book taking that fact as its launching springboard; and the fact that nobody else seemed to be doing so.

The cover of Slouching Towards Utopia is filled with turquoise refrigerators. What is the meaning behind this graphic? 

The artists and art director wanted something to catch the eye, and convey the message that our civilization has enormous technological powers to produce things—useful things—that no previous human civilization ever had, and that that potential for material abundance was a big deal.

You talk about a broad rejection of the status quo after the technologically innovative years of 1870–2010. What do you think is the reason for the broad rejection of the status quo? 

Well, the status quo that is being rejected is what historian Gary Gerstle calls “the Neoliberal Order.” It is being rejected because it is neither producing rapid economic growth, nor accomplishing any of the other tasks that it would need to in order to make people happy—its wealth distribution is seen as unjust, economic safety and security are seen as absent, and the difficult civilization-scale challenges we face as a species are being left unaddressed.

What is the most important lesson you hope readers will take away from this book?

That while the past 150 years have solved the problem of baking a large enough economic pie for everyone to potentially have enough, the problems of properly slicing and then enjoying that potentially ample economic pie have flummoxed us as a species.

Since the title of this book is Slouching Towards Utopia, do you feel that we are on our way toward utopia? If so, what do you feel we can do to ensure we stay on this path? 

The “Slouching Towards” in the title of the book is a call out to what has been called the most plundered poem of the 20th century: William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming.” The point is that you are not going to be rescued from your situation by something wonderful, but will rather have to deal with something monstrous. No, we are not on the road to Utopia.

What was the most interesting piece of information you learned while writing this book?

All of the Herbert Hoover gossip. 

Slouching Towards Utopia presents a narrative to understand why global poverty, economic downturn, and inequality exist in a world of so much technological advancement.  DeLong’s book offers opportunities to recognize how we might help ourselves and future generations. Slouching Towards Utopia is available starting Sept. 6.

Interdisciplinary Team of Students Helps Marine Corps Battalion Optimize Medical Training

The 4th Medical Battalion, a unit of the U.S. Marine Corps made up of Marines and U.S. Navy personnel, wanted to up the training and preparation of medical and surgical teams that support Marines in the field. Marines’ health and safety are quite literally on the line.

group with marines
Vytals members Sudeshna Naik (front row, left) and Pranav Vanjani (front row, right) visit the Marine Corps training field in Miramar East, San Diego and pose with corpsmen and doctors of 4th Medical Battalion. (Vytals photo)

The 4th Medical Battalion, a unit of the U.S. Marine Corps made up of Marines and U.S. Navy personnel, wanted to up the training and preparation of medical and surgical teams that support Marines in the field. Specifically, it wanted to know how it could “more effectively resource, organize, and provide medical training that realistically reflect the austere environments and patient conditions, while optimizing for the availability of critical training equipment.” Marines’ health and safety are quite literally on the line.

Thanks to the National Security Innovation Network and a Development Engineering class at Berkeley, the battalion found a potential answer: Vytals.

The student team in last spring semester’s DevEng 290: Innovation in Disaster Response, Recovery, and Resilience (IDR3) — Abhi Ghavalkar (Master of Design), Michelle Williams (Interdisciplinary Studies), Pranav Vanjani (Master of Engineering – Product Design), Sudeshna Naik (Master of Development Engineering), and Vishal Ramesh (Master of Engineering – Product Design) — developed a near-field communications patient-management tool for training medical teams in the field and tracking patients’ vitals in real-time without an internet connection.

The team, which named their final prototype Vytals, was paired with the U.S. Marine Corps’ 4th Medical Battalion early in the class.

A feature map of Vytals’ near-field communications prototype. (Vytals image)

“This was a great learning experience,” Naik said, “and I learned how to maximize my critical thinking abilities, managerial skills, conduct research, and develop prototypes.” She said she valued the “opportunity to visit the training site and conduct in-person interviews with the 4th Medical Battalion’s surgeons and corpsmen.”

IDR3 started out as just IDR: “Innovation in Disaster Response.” It was the brainchild of Vivek Rao, a lecturer at Haas School of Business and a researcher in mechanical engineering, and Rachel Dzombak, a former lecturer and researcher at Berkeley and now a full-time researcher and adjunct faculty at Carnegie Mellon University who played a key role in developing DevEng curriculum. They wanted to explore the skill sets needed to solve messy complex problems, including in humanitarian assistance and disaster response: framing and solving those complex problems, experimenting with emerging technology, taking a systems mindset and approach to solving problems, and working in interdisciplinary teams. Key is taking a human-centered approach, understanding the real people who are experiencing the problem and who have a stake in it, and thinking through the role technology can play in a solution that fits the problem, and not vice-versa.

IDR became IDR3, and students were connected to national-security agencies by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), a program office under the U.S. undersecretary of defense for research and engineering that connects new communities of innovators, academia, and early-stage ventures to solve national-security problems. Though it’s a DevEng course, students come from a wide array of disciplines. The class is gender-balanced and includes undergrads. Vytals was one of five teams in the 2022 iteration.

“The course intends to draw on the domain expertise of project sponsors, the critical thinking and innovation skills of students, and the frameworks that we as instructors provide,” Rao said. “Of these, Berkeley students shine the most: Working with sponsors presents students with a set of challenges unique from other courses, and I’ll be the first to say that we instructors are constantly learning and are far from perfect.

“Berkeley students drive the story in this class,” he added. “They are so passionate about making tangible differences in the world that they negotiate project and class challenges with alacrity and grace, something that’s true for the range of talent that elects to join the class, whether from engineering, architecture, public policy, or another discipline entirely. The Vytals team absolutely embodies that.”

The team also benefited from a travel award provided by NSIN partner Common Mission Project, a nonprofit platform for creating mission-driven entrepreneurs who can tackle pressing problems in everything from natural disasters to national security. CMP and IDR3 shared a philosophy of what CMP director of strategic partnerships, Tyrome Smith, called “beneficiary discovery.”

“Unless and until you really get to know your customers, you’re really just guessing,” Smith said of innovators seeking to help a specific community. “Sometimes you actually have to see them in their natural environment. You can’t talk to Marines who are trying to develop a sense of triage in the medical environment, for example, and ask, ‘How do you do triage in your medical environment?’ Nope. You’ve got to go visit.”

For CMP, fundees didn’t need to have working prototypes or business plans in place, but that “they’re going there with purpose” — to see, in this case, what the 4th Medical Battalion did, in order for Vytals to evaluate and revise their own hypothesis to best address the battalion’s problems.

So during the spring, part of the Vytals team visited the battalion at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar East in San Diego to check out fast-paced field exercises in an intensive, desert-like environment. They found that suboptimal organization and lack of space meant lost time when simulating medical scenarios, that Battalion members had difficulty identifying needed supplies during these simulated time crunches, and that they had a hard time tracking patient information and vitals.

“Doctors in the field are required to sift through [authorized medical allowance list] boxes for four to six hours every time in order to organize the medical supplies for easy access,” Cdr. Chrystine Lee explained to the team. Capt. Alan Flanigan told them: “We literally write a patient’s vitals on a sticky note and stick it on the patient’s forehead to keep track of their medical status.”

“This was our first foray into working with an educational institution to develop the ideas behind a military solution,” LtCol Sarah Pezzat, the battalion inspector-instructor, said. “Each student attacked the problem from their own unique perspective and honestly thought of potential solutions and took this project in new directions that I’m not sure we would have done on our own.”

Visiting the Marine Corps installation, LtCol Pezzat added, “helped give them a much more nuanced and detailed understanding of our operational and training challenges.”

From those in-the-field observations and numerous interviews with battalion members, the team reframed the problem to focus on providing a “realistic representation of field scenarios while optimizing preparation, organization, and utilization of medical equipment,” and got to work on three prototypes. The third was the battalion’s preferred solution: offline-capable patient tracking. Near-field communications (NFC) tags on patients’ skin monitor their vitals and relay them to caregivers’ devices without the need for internet. Caregivers can monitor their patients’ statuses in real time. A digital interface for trainers allows them to simulate realistic medical scenarios with trainees, who can respond in the system with how they should address the “patient.”

The team’s greatest challenge, Naik said, was “trying to nail down one problem statement that is both within the project’s scope and also meets the needs of all stakeholders.” 

“The most rewarding aspect,” she noted, “is to see how this project will make a real difference to the training process and prepare the 4th Medical Battalion for deployment.”

Though the class is over, Vytals’ run isn’t. Naik has adopted it as her M.DevEng capstone project, and the 4th Medical Battalion is keen on seeing it reach the testing phase and then on to production.

“Developing two of the ideas the Berkeley team came up with would not just benefit the 4th Medical Battalion,” LtCol Pezzat said, “but likely the military medical community as a whole.”

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Host and Fellow Responsibilities

Host Organizations

  • Identify staff supervisor to manage I&E Climate Action Fellow
  • Submit fellowship description and tasks
  • Engage in the matching process
  • Mentor and advise students
  • Communicate with Berkeley program director and give feedback on the program.

Berkeley Program Director​

  • Communicate with host organizations, students, and other university departments to ensure smooth program operations

Student Fellows

  • Complete application and cohort activities
  • Communicate with staff and host organizations
  • Successfully complete assignments from host organization during summer practicum
  • Summarize and report summer experience activities post-fellowship