International Development

In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a global compass for achieving human and economic development that is both environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive. Engineering and technology will play a prominent role in the achievement of the SDGs, thus requiring a generation of engineers prepared also as development practitioners, equipped to confront the multi-dimensional complexities of development challenges. The Villanova Sustainable Engineering for International Development Initiative aims to meet this challenge.The Sustainable Engineering for International Development Initiative brings together two synergistic programs that have developed in parallel in the Villanova College of Engineering over the past decade: The Sustainable Engineering graduate program and the Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL) program. In pursuit of innovative solutions to the SDGs, The Sustainable Engineering for International Development Initiative takes an integrated approach involving:

  • Curriculum: The Sustainable Engineering for International Development academic track’s takes the whole systems, life-cycle approach embedded in the Sustainable Engineering graduate program and applies it to the context of engineering and technology interventions in developing communities.
  • Collaboration: Linking the classroom to the field, VESL’s longstanding partnerships with organizations working on local development initiatives in countries throughout the world is a forum for ethical engagement with communities and working together with local stakeholders on real projects.
  • Applied Research: Finally, bringing together technical expertise from College of Engineering faculty, the local expertise of VESL’s partners, and Sustainable Engineering’s holistic frameworks creates a space for relevant applied research.

International Development Track Curriculum

The Sustainable Engineering for International Development Track applies a whole-systems approach embedded in the program’s core curriculum to the context of development practice. The track’s introductory course sets the scene by introducing frameworks for ethical engagement and successful implementation of development interventions. Subsequent track courses provide a broad based technical toolbox, covering a range of development applications, including drinking water and sanitation, ICT, electricity, and infrastructure.30 credits (10 courses) are required for the MSSE degree, including the 4 MSSE core courses (12 credits), 4 track courses (12 credits), and 6 credits between 1-2 elective course(s) and a thesis or capstone project. A certificate option is also available, consisting of 15 credits (5 courses) requiring the Sustainable Engineering intro course, Sustainable Engineering Fundamentals, as well as Introduction to Sustainable Engineering for International Development and three more track courses. The program may be completed on a full-time or part-time basis, and either on campus or online, giving working professionals options to earn a degree or certificate at their own pace from wherever they reside.

Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL)

The Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL) program offers engineering students, undergraduate and graduate, opportunities to engage in projects developed and implemented by VESL’s program partners in countries around the globe. Students’ level of engagement ranges from in-class design projects in both engineering and interdisciplinary courses and 1-2 week immersion trips to capstone design projects and summer or year-long volunteer assignments. The foundation of VESL’s is longstanding relationships with program partners, wherein the scope of involvement extends beyond one-off projects and we recognize our role as a supporting role for institutions developing local solutions to local problems.villanova-engineering-map


Bringing together Sustainable Engineering frameworks and VESL’s collaborative efforts, our flagship research initiative to date is the Sustainable WaSH research initiative, wherein the Villanova team, since 2013, has developed an innovative approach to monitoring and evaluation for WaSH infrastructure. Our approach brings together tools for objective, continuous measurement of water supply system performance with the Sustainable Engineering program’s STEEP (social, technical, economic, environmental, and political) framework to account for the big picture with respect to WaSH sustainability. To date, iterations of the sustainable WaSH research initiative have taken place in Panama, Nicaragua, Madagascar, and Ghana, with a total of four master’s theses either completed or currently underway. Other research efforts currently underway include:

  • A Life-cycle assessment for an unexploded ordinance harvesting program in Cambodian
  • A feasibility study for the incorporation of ICT for STEM education in remote off-grid schools in Nicaragua.

Contact Us

To inquire about the Sustainable Engineering for International Development Initiative or the curricular track please contact the initiative manager Iain Hunt at To inquire about the Villanova Engineering Service Learning program, please contact program director Jordan Ermilio at You can also make a donation through the University website, designating your gift to “Engineering Service Learning.”

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