UC Berkeley lecturer, Ph.D., and Chancellor’s Public Scholar Khalid Kadir is hoping his engineering skills can help create a more egalitarian society. Khalid has been putting his passion and skills—and deep commitment to social and environmental justice into action—teaching social justice concepts to engineering students at UC Berkeley while giving them hands-on experience putting those ideas to work. His new course, “Engineering, the Environment and Society,” which offers students the opportunity to work with communities in the real world, and his long-time friendship with Derek Hitchcock, The Watershed Project’s Greening Urban Watersheds Project Manager, led to a unique collaboration. Khalid’s team built a portable model of a bioswale that Derek can use to demonstrate the processes of infiltration and biofiltration to community members in Richmond and elsewhere.
Says Derek, “A kind of magic happens under the surface of rain gardens and bioswales. The soil and plant roots collaborate to filter pollutants and release water in a much cleaner state than when it entered. But this magic happens entirely out of view, and even the design of the rain garden or bioswale is only known and visible to those that built it. We wanted to have a mobile, living model of a rain garden that could be viewed from ‘underground.'”
Khalid and his students are also developing educational materials about stormwater solutions—rain gardens, bioswales, tree well filters, etc.—for The Watershed Project to use in our community outreach efforts, and his class helped plant trees and rushes in our Richmond Greenway bioswale. Khalid says two students have enjoyed these experiences so much that they plan to continue working on the project after the course ends.
Derek and Khalid are excited about the longer term benefits of the course. “It allows students to see how what they design and build can impact communities for better or worse,” says Derek. “It helps them see that they can make the word more livable—in this case, by emulating natural systems.” The Richmond bioswale filters runoff from the surrounding watershed, absorbing heavy stormwater flows and treating pollutants before they can make their way to the storm drain system, local creeks, and San Francisco Bay. These—and our other urban greening projects—help mitigate the urban heat island effect in heavily paved areas, make communities more resilient to climate change, and improve water quality.