Engineering social change at home and abroad

    Whether it’s a local program to support literacy or a global program to help women in developing countries, Ariel Li is working hard to find solutions.

    By Miranda Herchen on May 31, 2019

    (Edmonton) Ariel Li is making social change on both local and global scales.

    Her contributions come from an inherent desire the fourth-year mechanical engineering co-op student and entrepreneur has to motivate, inspire, and help others.

    And her leadership and citizenship have earned Li the inaugural William Muir Edwards Citizenship Award for service to the community on and off campus.

    The award is named in memory of William Muir Edwards, one of the founding professors at the University of Alberta, who died while caring for victims of the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918.

    Li says the award emphasizes what people do with their education, not what their education does for them. 

    “It’s how you define citizenship,” she said.

    Like most engineers, Li enjoys problem solving. And she’s passionate about helping people.

    “I’ve realized that beyond just machines, gears, and engines, there’s a whole other world that’s so much more complicated. And that’s people. Working with people.”

    Li’s list of community service activities is extensive. It makes others wonder how she manages to accomplish so much while studying engineering.

    As Founder and President of the UAlberta International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience committee, Li helps fellow students gain work experience abroad.

    “The ultimate goal is to motivate somebody to do something that I never could, which was work abroad,” she said. “If I can send a student to Germany, and then they can motivate another student to work in China, and then they can motivate someone else, I think that’s going to be the international and global (impact) of the work that I’ve done.”

    She is also VP Marketing for the UAlberta chapter of Entrepreneurship Action for Us (Enactus), leading the business development team to make social change. Through Enactus, she is the finance manager of Hempact, a social enterprise project that creates feminine hygiene products with hemp, which is considered agricultural waste.

    Not only does the product reduce waste, but it brings light to an issue that affects females across the world—menstruation.

    “In India and Africa right now, not only do young girls not have the access to sanitary products, but they aren’t even going to school because of that. And girls already are at a disadvantage,” she said.

    “This is something else that isn’t really discussed. We really want to be the ones that vocalize that, and I think it’s extremely empowering.”

    Li educates local high school students on issues of female menstruation in developing countries and works with women from these countries to involve them in her team’s business model.

    “What really sets this project apart and why I continue to want to be involved with Enactus, specifically with Hempact, is because now I get to work hands-on with the people who are impacted and with people who in our local communities,” she said.

    In her position as the University of Alberta branch Consulting Director for 180 Degrees Consulting, she leads other students to provide consulting services to socially conscious local organizations. Through working with this group, Li has learned that engineers are needed in all sectors because of their ability to look at the parts of a problem and rearrange them to arrive at a solution.

    She’s also a member of the non-profit organization Global Shapers. Li shapes the community, working on an initiative that provides a free book borrowing service, Books on the LRT, for LRT commuters. This non-profit organization is led by young people who want to help change their communities for the better. Their goal is to promote education and improve literacy within Edmonton.

    For Li, engineering and entrepreneurship are about social change.

    “We’re entrepreneurs. We’re innovators. We’re creators. And I think that’s really what I love about this degree. You can be anything—it’s just the path you want to take”

    The William Muir Edwards Citizenship Awards are made possible by the generosity of the David Morris Family Foundation.