It seems like each time I turn on the news, I hear about extreme weather ravaging our planet — tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes. But when current events seem bleak, I regain hope when I hear stories like the ones highlighted on CNN Heroes. The show features inspiring stories of everyday people doing extraordinary things to change the world. These individuals saw problems in their communities and took steps to fix them. Their individual actions had global impact.
I was particularly amazed by Afroz Shah, a lawyer and environmental activist who organized the world’s largest beach clean-up project in Mumbai. He quickly realized it would be difficult for one man to clean up a beach covered by a layer of garbage over five feet thick and began recruiting others to help. Over a period of three years, he spent more than 200 weekends picking up trash and motivated more than 200,000 volunteers to join his efforts. Shah shared his personal journey with others and created a movement that has inspired people around the world to clean up their surrounding environment.
A large component of keeping the beach clean involves education, so he travels to nearby coastal communities, where he tells residents about the repercussions of dumping trash (mainly plastics) into the river, which flows into the ocean. In addition, he equips them with the knowledge and resources to start recycling. Twice a week, Shah also visits schools and colleges, where he is creating the environmental leaders of tomorrow.
Shah’s story, and others highlighted in the CNN Heroes series, demonstrates how one person can make a huge impact on the world. I had this in mind when I traveled to Hyderabad, India, last week to speak at the Seventh International Conference on Transformations in Engineering Education (ICTIEE 2020). In my keynote, I asked each of the 500 faculty in attendance to think about the difference they could make if, throughout their careers, they each inspired 30 students to build a better world. If each of these students then went on to influence 30 more people and the pattern continues, then in just five generations, these faculty members will have collectively impacted over 12 billion people around the world. As individuals, we all have the potential to make a meaningful difference in the future of our planet.
The extreme natural disasters we’ve recently experienced are undeniably exacerbated by pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and other climate issues for which we need better solutions. Educators play a central role in molding their students into global citizens. As you fulfill your responsibility to teach them the fundamentals, you also have an opportunity to inspire them to solve the many complex challenges facing our planet today.
As CEO and Executive Director of ABET, I view one of our main roles as inspiring confidence in those who aim to build a better world — one that is safer, more efficient, more comfortable and sustainable. As accreditors of college and university STEM programs, we ensure that students around the world have the quality education they need to take on the many global challenges we face. The good news is that today’s generation of students wants to act — and this is why I have faith that the next generation and the ones that follow are going to change the world for the better.