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Humanitarian Engineering and Transformation

  • Dr. Louie 1Teaching at Seattle University can itself be transformative. Just listen to Dr. Henry Louie describe his experience at SU. Through the university's emphasis on education as a force for justice in the world, Dr. Louie has come to see his call as one that provides “humanitarian engineering.” 

    (See here for a short interview with Dr. Louie!)      

    Dr. Louie (Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering) suggests that engineers often spend their time making incremental changes to luxury items. Humanitarian engineering, on the other hand, “gets back to the roots of the profession of engineering” by providing energy, clean water, shelter and health care for those most in need. Since his expertise is in electricity and power, Dr. Louie seeks out projects that address “energy poverty” – or the fact that about 1.4 billion people do not have access to electricity.

    To identify specific communities seeking assistance and more resources, Dr. Louie draws on the worldwide Jesuit network. Most of his projects are connected to a Jesuit mission or to Fr. Bert Otten, SJ, a former Seattle University electrical and computer engineering professor.

    Dr. Louie 2

    In December, 2013, Dr. Louie and a team of volunteers, including Seattle University alumni and staff, traveled to a rural Kenyan village. During this “Assessment Trip”, the team gathered crucial information on the local community and met with key project stakeholders—all in support of the goal of long-term sustainability through providing electricity to a school and nearby community using solar panels and wind turbines.

    The team will also install a community charging station featuring a system of portable battery kits. Community members will rent these kits and use them in their homes to provide both lighting and power for charging devices such as cell phones. The full system will be implemented in August 2014 and is sponsored by the Alstom Foundation for the Environment. 

    Back in Seattle, Dr. Louie is one of the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability’s (CEJS) Faculty Fellows. His CEJS-supported research focuses on the “Development of Electric Vehicle Load Forecasting Techniques for a Sustainable Future.” Dr. Louie is interested in how electric vehicles affect the electric power grid.  

    As far as what we all can do to contribute to a more sustainable future, Dr. Louie highlights the importance of reducing our own energy-footprint: through monitoring the heating and cooling of homes and switching to more efficient LED or compact fluorescent light bulbs. He also suggests investing in more efficient appliances and building well-insulated homes. In his own life, Dr. Louie does not own a car, walks a lot, and is building a very energy efficient home.

    Through the application of his engineering skills in service of the underserved, Dr. Louie is touching the lives of many people. His humanitarian engineering projects provide communities with basic needs that citizens of developed countries often take for granted. 


    CEJS provided a fellowship to Dr. Louie in support of his research; six other faculty and five students also received fellowships. For more information on the work of CEJS Fellows, visit: www.seattleu.edu/cejs/fellowships