Alice Piggott joined the Engineers Without Borders to help others.

From the day Alice Piggott found out about Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a student-run organisation that aims to help people through engineering, she hasn’t looked back.

Studying to do good

With EWB, Piggott has worked with the charity Shelter Centre, making a new type of refugee tent, and RedR, an organisation that trains aid workers in specialised skills. She has now landed a job at Mott MacDonald, an international, engineering, management and development consultancy, and is looking forward to new and exciting projects in its water and environment team.

Piggott loved studying sciences at school and she chose to take a general science course at university, but was excited to discover chemical engineering as a possibility in her second year. The course offered a good blend of science and engineering, appealing to both her theoretical and practical sides, with plenty of hands-on applications and project work alongside the theory.

“It’s a really flexible degree that prepares students equally well for careers in research, finance in the City, or engineering design, depending on your interests and abilities,” says Piggott. “It’s also pretty well paid in comparison with other engineering disciplines!”

Engineers Without Borders

She was encouraged to find relevant work placements during the summer holidays and suffered her way through a number of different and unfulfilling jobs until, she says, “I stumbled across Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UK). EWB-UK exists to ‘facilitate human development through engineering’, with branches at over 15 universities around Britain.

They arrange holiday placements for students working with development organisations around the world. The placements all have a technical focus and range from the design of smokeless adobe mud stoves in Ecuador to rural hydroelectric schemes in Sri Lanka. There are projects at all levels of technical difficulty and with a wide range of social difficulty too. ”

On her placement, Piggott was part of a team of seven people working at Shelter Centre, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) conducting research into improving the support for communities affected by natural disaster or conflict.

“I was working on a number of projects with other volunteers from many different disciplines – mechanical and structural engineers, architects and IT experts – such as the construction of a prototype for a new refugee tent to be deployed in emergency situations.”

“The placement gave me the chance to put the theory I had been learning for so many years into practice, and for a project that I believed could have a massive impact on many people’s lives. I also gained many of the skills my classmates were learning at their summer internships – teamwork, producing reports, working to deadlines – but for a cause I could really get excited about. It was also a great introduction to the field of disaster relief and development, and I have stayed involved with the organisation ever since.”

After her EWB-UK placement, Piggott joined the EWB-UK national committee and became involved in many projects, the most interesting of which was helping to organise and run training courses in collaboration with RedR.

“RedR provides training to aid workers in skills they need to do the job of helping people rebuild their lives in times of disaster. By providing skilled aid workers in specialist fields, RedR has a greater ability to make a difference. The training involved some of the basics for disaster relief situations, such as water purification and simple survey techniques, as well as a crash course in mixing cement and building timber roof trusses.”

After graduation, Piggott considered a wide range of options before finally deciding that she wanted to work in the water and wastewater treatment sector. “I joined Mott MacDonald in September of 2006, as part of the Cambridge-based water and environment team. Since then I have worked on a range of different projects, from high-level feasibility studies and strategies for some of the largest water companies in Britain to rough calculations for chemical dosing in rural Uganda.

The breadth of work taken on by the company is exciting, and as part of the team I am encouraged to explore my own strengths and to strive for professional excellence.”