Master of Development Engineering Graduates Second-Ever Cohort

Photo by Amy Sullivan

Yordanos Degu Zewdu clearly remembers the moment she decided to become a changemaker helping those most in need: as a young kid in Addis Ababa, on the way home from shopping with her mother, right before the start of the school year.

Degu Zewdu and her mother came across a father and his two children. He appeared ill and was begging desperately for food for his hungry kids. The suffering and desperation moved the young Degu Zewdu deeply.

“But as a kid, I had no means to help. So I stood there, overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness,” she recalled. “My mother, the kindest person I’ve ever known, generously gave the father money to buy food for his kids, brightening their faces with joy.”

Yordanos Degu Zewdu (Photo by Amy Sullivan)
Yordanos Degu Zewdu (Photo by Amy Sullivan)

In that moment, she realized that “when I grew up, I wanted to be in a position to help communities and families in need.”

Degu Zewdu, who continues fulfilling that promise as a Development Engineer, recounted the story to her peers and their families last Friday evening at the commencement ceremony of the UC Berkeley Master of Development Engineering program’s Class of 2023 — the second-ever cohort of what is likely the world’s first such degree program. The group of 30, hailing from 13 countries, crossed the stage at Banatao Auditorium following three semesters, an internship, and a capstone project.

“We are here to celebrate the hard work you have put into this program and to honor your commitment, your courage, your tenacity, and your compassion,” said Prof. Kara Nelson, chair of the Graduate Group in Development Engineering. “And we thank you for the work that you are doing to make this world a more just place, a more equitable place, and more peaceful. You are an inspiration to all of us.”

The Class of 2023 worked on projects ranging from tracking and optimizing plastic waste collection for recycling in Uganda, to household sanitation and hygiene in Ethiopia, to policy needs as California transitions to greater renewable energy.

Despite impressive accomplishments in the classroom and out in the world, the variety and magnitude of the world’s problems can make DevEng work feel “like planting a singular seed in a vast desert and hoping for a forest to grow tomorrow,” said the evening’s other student speaker, Anjali Ravunniarath.

Anjali Ravunniarath (Photo by Amy Sullivan)
Anjali Ravunniarath (Photo by Amy Sullivan)

“I stand here, with the same big problems and no easy solutions. However, I have found solace in this community in the last year and a half,” she said. “Together, we’ve dissected a lot of systems, understood parts of it, and occasionally tried to see if we could fix a few. The problems may not have disappeared, but our collective efforts make it seem less daunting, and that’s truly what I’m grateful for.”

This constant change-making journey won’t always be smooth sailing, counseled the evening’s commencement speaker, Ranjiv Khush, a water scientist, member of Marin County’s water board, and co-founder of Aquaya, a nonprofit producing data and tools to support universal access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Even the most accomplished development engineers, like Prof. Amy Pickering, don’t get it right every time, he said.

“Here’s the thing: Amy and all of our other heroes, they make embarrassing professional mistakes. They mess things up. They feel ashamed,” he said. “Just like us.

Ranjiv Khush (Photo by Amy Sullivan)
Ranjiv Khush (Photo by Amy Sullivan)

“The difference,” Khush added, “is that they’re really good at rolling with it. They shake it off. They refuse to let their mistakes define them. Be the same: Shake it off. Please, do not let your mistakes and your embarrassments dissuade you from anything or get in the way of your success.”

Prof. Dan Fletcher closed out the ceremony with a challenge to the newly minted master’s-degree holders: “I want to challenge you each day after this program, as you move on with your careers, as you find your passions, as you live your passions, to be the best person that you imagined you could be while you were in this program.”

It was a sentiment with echoes of advice Degu Zewdu had offered earlier in the evening.

“As we set forth on our individual journeys,” she said, “I urge each of you to embrace life’s unpredictability, step out of your comfort zones, show resilience, remain open to the countless opportunities that await. It is in these moments of growth and uncertainty that we will unveil the authenticity of ourselves.”

DevEng Photo Contest Winners Highlight Both the Promise and Fragility of Technological Interventions

Development Engineering is a field of research and practice that combines the principles of engineering with economics, human-centered design, entrepreneurship, natural resources, and social science to create technological interventions in accordance with and for individuals living in low-resource settings. It’s a technical field, one often rendered in blueprints, lines of code, and physical devices.

But depicting DevEng to lay audiences is vital not just to raising the field’s academic profile but to growing the capacity of a discipline that tangibly improves lives as well as to highlight the richness and complexity of the communities DevEng aims to serve.

Each summer, students in UC Berkeley’s Master of Development Engineering program and the PhD designated emphasis in DevEng implement DevEng interventions close to home and far away, documenting their work and their environment as they go. This year’s DevEng Photography Contest highlights the best of this summer’s photos and videos, from the sometimes-precarious state of electrical power in rural places to novel technologies for delivering medicines and medical supplies. (Coincidentally, the three winners were captured in the same country.) Jacob Seigel Brielle and Isaac Seigel-Boettner, the talented Cal-alum duo behind Pedal Born Pictures, joined DevEng staff in judging this year’s submissions.


1st place

“The fragility of rural power”

Samuel Miles, PhD student, Energy & Resource Group; DevEng designated emphasis

“This is a picture of a young boy carrying out his chores in rural Rwanda,” says Miles. “The background shows rural infrastructure — in this case, a sagging power line held up by a local tree. It encapsulates the opportunities and challenges of modernity — the possibility that the boy grows up benefiting from electricity, but also the dangers poor planning represents to safety.”

Judges commended the great intersecting lines in the composition and how the photo’s symbolism deepens the more one dives into the image.


2nd place

“Zipline Drone Landing”

Rachel Dersch, Master of Development Engineering student


Dersch’s video depicts a medical delivery drone landing. The company behind it, Zipline, is a Silicon Valley start-up operating in various African countries, including Rwanda. “They make deliveries constantly to all the hospitals in Rwanda that contain blood, medicines, and supplies,” says Dersch. The company provides “quality employment” for their staff in Muhanga, Rwanda, she adds, and is being considered for her research team’s sites for solar power and water filtration units, since they require a landing pad for deliveries. “The drones are a really cool adaptation for developing countries when the road infrastructure makes time sensitive deliveries like blood difficult to accommodate,” Dersch says.

Judges appreciated the depiction of a fascinating new technology being used for good — and the importance in DevEng of testing tech first.


3rd place

“Rural health clinic energy transitions in Rwanda”

Rachel Dersch, Master of Development Engineering student

“I like this photo because it showcases the complexity of working in rural locations where cows are grazing on hospital grounds next to new technology implementations,” Dersch says. “This photo was taken in a very remote location in the ‘Thousand Hills’ of Rwanda, a gorgeous place. We were at the location conducting qualitative interviews on the energy transition at the health clinic and picking up power monitoring sensors.”

Judges recognized this photo for the deeper story and symbolism behind it. Plus, “these sorts of juxtapositions help explain more of the why behind DevEng,” Seigel Brielle says.

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Host and Fellow Responsibilities

Host Organizations

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Berkeley Program Director​

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