Being the Voice of the SDGs through Creative Engineering Assignments



Monash University Malaysia
Organizations/areas of the university involved

Education Excellence and School of Engineering


Expanding beyond the norms, this project challenges the students to embed a unique blend of creativity and simplicity into communication of engineering theory and jargons to promote SDGs through assignments.

The case study presented here had humble beginnings in one of the classrooms of Monash University Malaysia for an environmental engineering unit, Environmental Impact Assessment and Management, offered to final year chemical engineering students, specializing in sustainable streams. The project, initiated by Dr. Poovarasi Balan in March 2019, who was the unit coordinator and also the instructor of the unit, students were challenged to design comic books by infusing their environmental engineering knowledge with creative stimuli in visual art. Creation of comics as part of the engineering assignment is a rare opportunity for students to unleash their creativity through storytelling and arts while being the voice of an environmental issue in Malaysia, land reclamation.The assignment on comics were designed with a noble intention and higher purpose in mind, aimed at creating sustainability awareness and environmental-consciousness amongst the younger generation of Malaysia. 

Given the peculiar nature of the assignment, which stood differently from typical engineering assignments, the educational design involving outcome based learning and engineering competency skills were mapped carefully to integrate the engineering elements, collaboratively with guidance from Education Excellence wing of Monash University Malaysia. Various teaching pedagogical concepts revolving around story-telling, problem-based-learning and concept cartoons were embedded within the curriculum design.  

The comic stories produced are thematically crafted based on major environmental issue in Malaysia, Land Reclamation and the role of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in tackling the arising issues. The project led to closely knitted collaboration between Dr. Poovarasi Balan and an NGO (Malaysian Nature Society), secured an education grant in August 2019 for a community outreach program, extending the shelf-life of the class assignments to reach wider community while promoting sustainable development goals. 

The first project #ResponsibleReclamation is a collection of comics featuring the voices of endangered species and affected fishing community in Malaysia, is strategically aligned to SDG, “Life below Land”. The second project #PurposefulReclamation is closely aligned with Covid-19 and “Zero Hunger”. An online educational platform ( has been created to enhance students learning and training programs for teachers of Malaysian teachers were specially designed to promote SDGs.

Results and impact measured or expected

Engineering schools provide a solid ground in shaping the minds of young future engineers into sustainability thinking and not merely profit-driven. As university educators, we have an opportunity to mould their thinking before they enter the job market. While we always design our assignments to handle the technical aspects of their knowledge, other important aspects of reflection often take a back seat. I wanted my students to do an assignment with a higher purpose in mind while still tackling the technical aspects and create impact by sharing it with society at large. This initiative has attracted educational grants for further development, a project website with creative assignment, collaboration with an environmental NGO (Malaysian Nature Society, MNS), online educational platform for younger generation, research publications (under review) and specially designed trainings for the teachers of Malaysia associated with Nature Society of the MNS. 

Connection with the SDG framework

Integration of SDG framework within the engineering assignments challenges the students to innovate their thinking ability to incorporate triple-bottom line concepts into the design of their assignment solutions that educates society. The SDG framework served as an ethical and socially-responsible foundation for major environmental and sustainable development issues such as land reclamation in Malaysia, which requires engineering approach. To date, the case study involves two different class assignments designated to the chemical engineering batch of students of year 2019 and 2020. The first project #ResponsibleReclamation representation of endangered species below water (i.e. Hawksbill turtle) and affected fishing community in Malaysia, hence, closely aligned to SDG 14 “Life below Land”. The second project #PurposefulReclamation talks about reclaiming the land only for the right purpose such as sustainable agriculture. The story setting is set to be during the Covid-19 era involving food scarcity during lock-downs, hence addressing SDG 2, “Zero Hunger”. 

Barriers and follow up

The first barrier is paradigm shift in adaptation of storytelling (i.e. comics) in engineering assignment which seemed rare. With the guidance from Educational Excellence of MUM, I managed to map the outcome based learning, engineering competency skills and teaching pedagogies to the assignment design to make it relevant to engineering syllabus. The next challenge was to motivate students to draw and craft a story that relates engineering knowledge to the assignment solution. I had continuously motivated them and provide feedback. The students enjoyed coming to class for the coloring therapy session and embrace the sustainability concepts when designing their stories suitable for the younger generation in school. Another big challenge was creating a new platform to showcase their work to reach public domain. Through concerted effort with some students from class, the website was and designed co-created successfully. The entire project is about co-creating change with students. 

Transferability of the initiative

The project will spread its wings to different parts of the country in Malaysia through teachers training programs and beyond Malaysia too. Some collaborative talks with universities in India and Australia has been initiated. We are also planning to create social change ambassadors, targeting university students (youth) to promote the environmental and sustainability agenda. At the moment, the website has highest viewership (53%) in the United States although our efforts to promote the website was limited to Malaysia.