Senior Highlight: Ashley Foltz, Humanitarian Engineer in the Multidisciplinary Engineering Degree Program

Author: Teresa Walker
Event Date: September 16, 2020
Ashley Foltz, a senior in our Multidisciplinary Engineering Degree Program, was becoming a humanitarian engineer before she even knew it was an option to pursue. Her world travels, including a fateful semester abroad to Singapore, helped her discover her pathway. Lucky for us, Ashley's journey led her to our Humanitarian Engineering concentration. "Humanitarian Engineering was the perfect way to combine my engineering skills with my interests for anthropology and all things humanitarian."

Ashley with group of students

Q&A with Ashley

Why did you choose Humanitarian Engineering as your concentration?
I learned about Humanitarian Engineering while I was on a semester abroad in Singapore. I was solo-traveling through Southeast Asia and learning so much about myself and the world that I felt a growing dissonance with my current engineering studies. I felt it did not have enough of a global and human-centered focus. I began some searches, and discovered all that Multidisciplinary Engineering (MDE) had to offer. Naturally, Humanitarian Engineering was the perfect way to combine my engineering skills with my interests for anthropology and all things humanitarian.

What are your specific interests in Humanitarian Engineering? Do you have examples from prior internships or volunteer experiences that tie into your pursuit to become a humanitarian engineer?
I’ve been doing work with the School of Engineering Education. This entails a variety of global projects, ranging from using engineering skills to study the implementation of Psychosocial Support and Social-Emotional Learning in South Sudanese schools, to studying how different groups of at-risk engineering students perform in online and blended-learning methods. As such, planning for tailored methods of education around the world is my current focus.

You are also majoring in Spanish. How does your Spanish major tie into your career objectives?
Spanish is a great tool to allow me to contribute to projects in Latin America. I spent some time in Ecuador studying the Venezuelan refugee crisis and their methods of integration for refugees. Knowing the local language allows you to form a deeper connection and understanding of the target population.

"I was already becoming a humanitarian engineer before I knew what it was."

In a recent podcast interview featuring Professor Mary Pilotte discussing humanitarian engineering, she stated that "we don't really give birth to humanitarian engineers, we give wings to humanitarian people." Can you comment on this as you set your sights past graduation next Spring? How has MDE/Purdue Engineering prepared you? And finally, where do you hope your degree takes you, especially given the current climate and the desperate need for more humanitarian engineers?
Professor P is a blessing for that! I remember telling her I was already becoming a humanitarian engineer before I knew what it was. I just needed that extra push while I was abroad to make that change. The most important thing that MDE has done is guide me towards the right connections. These connections have been extremely important to me especially as a First-Generation College Student who comes from a unique background. MDE led me to the DeBoer Lab [led by ENE Associate Professor Jennifer DeBoer], where I have done my Engineering Education research and formed important connections that will hopefully lead me to the next step of research abroad with a Fulbright, and then one day graduate school. Humanitarian Engineering has given me the right professional skills and connections which foster my interests and help me forge my own path.