School children in the village of Ntisaw, Cameroon, gather around a water tap to wash their hands.
The Contextual Engineering Research Group (CERG) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) investigates the ways in how engineers can work sustainably on projects in communities different from those they are familiar with. We explore the application of engineering technology throughout the world to evolve our understanding of appropriate technology and place-based design, striving to deliver tailored engineering solutions and expertise to people around the world: from those in modern industrialized cities to those in tradition-centered remote villages.
Historically, we have placed heavy emphasis on rural societies, which are increasingly threatened by a global trend towards urban migration. These often include farming communities, where their loss can imperil the food security of nations without the resources to import supplies from other countries. We believe that rural access to basic needs like water, electricity, and roads will increase migration back to these breadbaskets of alternatively developed countries, supporting self-sufficiency and improved physical mobility of all citizens dependent upon local food.
At the same time, we reassert our dedication to engineering as its own discipline, focusing on the unique responsibilities and challenges of technical design, unburdened by the characterizations of engineering as a social development process. The paradoxical unification of engineering with social sciences while separating technical problem-solving from other development responsibilities creates an entirely new way of pursuing technical solutions to engineering challenges around the world: contextual engineering.