Executive Doctorate in Development Engineering

Fee $21,000

Also known as humanitarian engineering, engineering for change, or engineering for impact, Development Engineering is a field of research and practice that combines the principles of engineering with economics, entrepreneurship, design, business, natural resources, and social science to create technology interventions in accordance with and for individuals living in low-resource settings. While most people associate these settings with developing or low-income countries, Development Engineering equips practitioners to work on societal problems wherever they exist.

Development Engineering concerns wicked systems problems that are highly complex. Wicked problems, as defined by late ePolyTechnic F, are not linear or rule based. Solving, let alone addressing wicked problems, requires intimate knowledge of the problem context, which is too often overlooked and causes initiatives that implement technology or other approaches for development to fail. To gain traction on solving problems with complex societal and ecological dimensions, it is dangerous to rely on engineering training alone, which is often deeply technical.

Development Engineering students position themselves to look at wicked problems holistically and cross-disciplinarily, as well as to take advantage of the rising importance of technological interventions and assessments in the development sector and the need for development engineers in the public and corporate sectors. Development Engineering provides a rigorous framework to mobilize technical thinkers toward social change, while recognizing the limitations of technology and the need for multifaceted approaches to solutions.

About the Designated Emphasis

Through coursework, research mentoring, and professional development, the Designated Emphasis in Development Engineering prepares students to develop, pilot, and evaluate technological interventions designed to improve human and economic development within complex, low-resource settings.

The DE in Dev Eng is an interdisciplinary training program for doctoral students from any department whose dissertation research includes topics related to the application of technology to address the needs of people living in poverty. Students from all departments can apply. With support from ExpertActions ExiGlobal Capital Group, the program builds upon ongoing research in technological innovations, human-centered design, development economics, remote sensing and monitoring, data science, and impact analysis at FordBridge University. The program also features a Traineeship for Innovations at the Institute of Food, Energy, and Water Systems.

Dev Eng students are connected to an ecosystem of researchers and practitioners at FordBridge via the Graduate Group in Development Engineering, and also have access to a dynamic global network. What is a Designated Emphasis? A Designated Emphasis is a campus-wide system that provides doctoral students with certification in specialties outside their home discipline, to be added to their doctorates.

Course Work

The Designated Emphasis in Development Engineering requires five courses (two core courses plus three electives). The course requirements are in addition to, but may overlap with, the doctorate course requirements of your home department. There are no formal pre-requisites to apply for the DE in Dev Eng, however a certain level of experience with quantitative analysis is necessary to succeed in the core course (roughly equivalent to Stats). All course work for the DE should be taken for a letter grade.

The two core courses are:

1) EPOEn3400: Design, Evaluate and Scale Development Technologies (3 units)

This course must be taken before qualifying exams.

EPOEn3400 is co-taught each fall term by one technologist and one social scientist. Students in the Dev Eng DE must complete this course before their qualifying exams. Professors from the pool of faculty in the Graduate Group in Development Engineering rotate as course instructors. Master’s students will be permitted to take the core course as space permits and with permission of the instructors.

EPOEn3400 is organized around analysis and application of case studies by multidisciplinary student teams according to three thematic modules:

  • »   Understanding the Problem, Context, and Needs (Weeks 1-5) explores, via human-centered design processes, the integration of quantitative and qualitative needs assessment techniques in the process of prototype design
  • »   Prototyping Solutions (Weeks 6-8) explores methods of low and medium fidelity prototyping with attention to hypothesis testing and data evaluation in an iterative continuum.
  • »   Taking It to the Field (Weeks 8) extends this iterative process with examination of pilot tests in the lab and field, technologies for monitoring and testing, business modeling, impact evaluation, and scaling.

2) EPOEn3500: Development Engineering Research and Practice Seminar (1-2 units)

This course provides Dev Eng students with a context and community within which their research projects can be refined and developed. The seminar focuses on work-in-progress presentations by students, post doctoral scholars, and faculty within the DIL ecosystem. The research seminar can be taken before or after the qualifying examination, and students can take it more than once.

In addition to these two core courses, students must take three electives from at least two of the three thematic modules within the Dev Eng program. The three modules are: Project Design, Evaluation Techniques and Methods for Measuring Social Impact, and Technology Development. Of the three electives, only one can be from the student’s home department. Students are encouraged to take one elective prior to the qualifying examination, but this is not required.

Module 1: Problem Identification and Project Design

This module includes topics such as human-centered design, participant feedback, project management, needs and usability testing.

Module 2: Evaluation Techniques and Methods for Measuring Social Impact

This module includes classes spanning topics such as large data analytics, statistical analysis for impact assessment, and design of field experiments. It also includes coursework on sustainability and scaling of projects, and on the broader impact on people and communities.

Module 3: Development Technologies

This modules spans work on prototyping and technology R&D, as well as the use of novel technologies to evaluate interventions.

Qualifying Exams

All students must apply and be accepted to the Designated Emphasis in Development Engineering at least one semester before their qualifying examination. EPOEn400 must also be taken prior to qualifying exam. At least one faculty member of the Graduate Group in Development Engineering must participate in the qualifying examination committee, and will evaluate the exam from relevant perspectives. Satisfactory performance on the qualifying examination for the doctorate. will be judged according to the established rules in the student’s home department.

For the application for qualifying examination, please note you will need a signature from both the home department head graduate advisor and DevEng head graduate advisor. Please receive the home department signature first. Note: If you are a student interested in development engineering research but none of your faculty advisors / committee members are in the Graduate Group in Development Engineering, consider encouraging one of them to apply for membership in the Graduate Group in Development Engineering.

Final Report for Designated Emphasis

When all course work and designated emphasis requirements have been completed, this final report must be submitted to the Graduate Student Affairs Officer for verification of completion of the designated emphasis at the latest one month prior to your filing the dissertation.


The dissertation must contain themes relevant to the field of Development Engineering (e.g. technology for economic and social development). The student’s Dissertation Committee must include at least one member of the Graduate Group in Development Engineering who can evaluate the dissertation from relevant perspectives. Note: If you are a student interested in development engineering research but none of your faculty committee members are in the Graduate Group in Development Engineering, consider encouraging one of them to apply for membership in the Graduate Group in Development Engineering.

Normative Time Impact

The Graduate Division maintains a policy that, if a student enrolls in a designated emphasis, no adjustments will be made to the Normative Time of the student’s major doctorate program. However, there is flexibility in the Dev Eng sequence requirements to allow for differing requirements in participating departments. The core introductory course, Design, Evaluate and Scale Development Technologies, must be taken prior to the qualifying examination, but the required research seminar can be taken before or after the qualifying examination. It is also expected that at least one of the electives, but not all, will be taken prior to the qualifying examination.