Incorporating the AquaHacking Challenge in my Sustainable Engineering Design Course

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By Professor Sabine Weyand, Assistant Professor of Teaching (Electrical, Mechanical), School of Engineering, University of British Columbia (UBCO) 

On October 29, 2019, I happened upon the British Columbia AquaHacking Challenge Kick-off event in the foyer of the Engineering Management and Education Building of UBCO. I learned that the AquaHacking Challenge was being delivered in BC for the first time, and UBCO students were invited to register and compete in the Challenge to design tech solutions to tackle fresh water issues. 

I was inspired to share this opportunity with students in my ASPC 169 Fundamentals of Sustainable Engineering Design undergraduate course. In the course, we focus on the theory and practice of sustainable engineering. Students learn about awareness and risk analysis of potential impacts on society and the environment over the life cycle of engineering projects. A team-based design project is central to the course, and the structure and focus of the AquaHacking Challenge seemed like a great fit.

In an effort to learn more about the BC AquaHacking Challenge, I was connected with Carolina Restrepo with the Okanagan Basin Water Board, which was the partner organization co-delivering the Challenge alongside Aqua Forum (the organization that created the AquaHacking Challenge). Carolina was excited for the opportunity to engage the students in my class in the challenge and I was excited for the water issues to become the central focus of our term project. All 300 students in the class tackled one of the water challenges as their course project. Students were given dedicated lab time to work on their projects. The course deliverables were centered around the project which included lab reports focused on developing project requirements, project planning, solution generation, and solution testing. Competing in the official AquaHacking event was optional and Carolina visited my class to pitch the event to all students. 27 decided to compete. 

I received great feedback from the students who competed in the AquaHacking event, and two of the five Finalist teams for the BC AquaHacking Challenge were teams from the ASPC 169 class! 

  • Team GAPSS (Gravity Assisted Particle Separation Systems), consisting of team members Jacob Sol, Graeme Kumagai, Cole White-Robinson, Jayden Wong and Rudransh Kumar, who created a stormwater filtration device, adapted to the land contour, to collect debris, waste, and sediment as it flows over the urban landscape in times of high water events. GAPSS placed 2nd overall in the competition and won $15,000 in seed funding. 
  • Team A2Z Filters (previously known as team Elite), consisting of team members Keyvan Khadem, Gavin Saini, Harvir Mann, and Ahmed Ramadan, who created a gravity-based filtration system made of organic material that removes oil, dust and petroleum contaminants from water. A2Z Filters placed 4th overall in the competition and won the Audience Choice Award, receiving $3,500 in seed funding through the competition. 

I am so happy to see all of the achievements and opportunities that were made possible through the AquaHacking Challenge. The successful teams have recently secured spots in the entrepreneurship@UBCO incubator where they continue to be supported in their solution and start-up development. They were also featured in the recent documentary Building Okanagan Flood Resiliency Utilizing Natural Assets produced by entrepreneurship@UBCO. 

Overall, my partnership with AquaHacking was a very positive experience that enhanced my course. If you are considering incorporating an AquaHacking Challenge into your course and have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me via email at

“Participating in the AquaHacking BC 2020 Challenge via Professor Weyand’s course APSC169 Fundamentals of Sustainable Engineering Design has been a formative, enjoyable, and rewarding experience, which altered the course of my undergraduate journey. Professor Weyand’s stepwise instruction in APSC169 allowed us to learn new design theory and engineering principles each week, then implement them in practice on our AquaHacking project towards a new milestone the following week. This coupling of the lecture material and the AquaHacking project was beneficial because my classmates and I were able to work on one meaningful self-selected project that had some real-world relevance and opportunity in a guided fashion.  As a result, the interest in our projects grew over the semester, and we learned the material more intimately, as we had to develop a durable understanding of the new theory each week to progress our unique projects. By the end of the semester, our weekly labs had culminated in our final submission to the AquaHacking BC Challenge.  When I left APSC169, I had not only a letter grade to evidence my learning but also a clean water technology solution I engineered with my team to point to and highlight the technical competencies and soft skills I developed in the process. My AquaHacking experience has opened new doors to entrepreneurship and research that will define my undergraduate experience at UBC, and for that, I am grateful to Professor Weyand and the AquaHacking BC team.” – Rudransh Kumar, ASPC 169 student and member of BC 2020 AquaHacking 2nd place team GAPSS