ENE's Oakes chosen as president-elect of Engineers Without Borders USA
William (Bill) Oakes, Purdue University’s assistant dean for experiential education and director of EPICS, was recently elected president of Engineering Without Borders USA (EWB-USA).
Oakes will begin his three-year term on the EWB-USA Executive Committee as president-elect on Jan. 1, 2024. He will serve one year each as president-elect, president (effective Jan. 1, 2025) and, finally, past president.
EWB-USA seeks to build a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs. EWB-USA students and professionals volunteer with underserved communities at home and internationally to build a more sustainable world. EWB-USA’s International Community Program collaborates on more than 370 projects in 40 countries. These projects are driven by 233 chapters with 14,000 volunteers engineering changes for communities to meet their self-identified needs.
In 2010, Oakes began collaborating with EWB-USA through projects and workshops with their leadership. In 2014, he worked with the student leaders to bring the Purdue EWB-USA chapter into the EPICS program and became the faculty advisor, a role he maintains. EPICS is a multi-disciplinary, community-engaged program, where students learn human-centered design and community partners receive complete projects. In EPICS, founded at Purdue in 1995, students earn academic credit for multi-year projects that address engineering and technology-based needs of community organizations.
“Using the EPICS structure to support the work of Purdue EWB-USA gives students an opportunity to receive college credit for their work,” said Oakes, a professor of engineering education.
Purdue EWB-USA teams have had opportunities to make a difference the world over. Projects include a completed bio-digester in Uganda that provided fuel for the kitchen of a local school, an active implementation of a water collection and distribution system in Rwanda and the design of a cultural and education center for an indigenous tribe in Louisiana that would double as a hurricane relief center, complete with raised garden beds that float in a flood.
“EWB-USA mobilizes engineering students nationwide to bring tangible infrastructure solutions to communities in critical need. Beyond acquiring hands-on engineering experience, volunteers undergo profound growth, cultivating values of service, critical thinking, humility and civic engagement. Dr. Bill Oakes, embodying these traits, demonstrates outstanding leadership at Purdue by fostering platforms like EWB-USA for extra- and co-curricular engagement,” said Boris Martin, CEO of Engineering Without Borders USA. “Excited about the next three years, I anticipate elevating EWB-USA's influence on student leadership to unprecedented heights alongside Bill.”
Oakes came to Purdue in 1992 to pursue a PhD in mechanical engineering. He joined the faculty in Freshman Engineering, which later became the School of Engineering Education. In 1998, he began teaching EPICS; in 1999 became co-director; and in 2007, director. In 2023, Oakes became the assistant dean for experiential learning.
“The work of EWB-USA, like EPICS, touches students in ways that prepare them for their future careers and lives as leaders as global citizens,” Oakes said. “It exposes them to needs and opportunities where they can help make the world a better place. The work also results in tangible benefits now for the communities and people with whom they are engaged.”