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New University of Dayton engineering class looks at solving homelessness

Professor Raúl Ordóñez teaching his Engineering for the Common Good class.
University of Dayton
University of Dayton
Professor Raúl Ordóñez teaching his Engineering for the Common Good class.

A new engineering class at the University of Dayton is looking to harness its math skills to solve a complicated issue – homelessness. The class, called Engineering Systems for the Common Good, will work with Montgomery County Homeless Solutions to help accomplish this goal.

Raúl Ordóñez is an engineering professor at the University of Dayton. He started at UD in 2001 as a professor of electrical and computer engineering. He worked on things like engineering systems and aircraft machines.

However, Ordóñez knew he wanted to do more with his knowledge of equations, theories and models.

“I [had] been thinking for a long time that, man, I would love to be able to use this knowledge for something other than engineering,” Ordóñez said.

It wasn’t until he met his wife, a human rights advocate, and began having conversations about human rights related issues and social justice that Ordóñez decided on his goal.

He decided to look at the issue of homelessness.

According to the Montgomery County Homeless Solutions, nearly 4,000 households experienced homelessness in 2021. This means a person spent at least one night in a community shelter or sleeping unsheltered.

Ordóñez’s new class could help solve the issue. He and his students will build models of homelessness and analyze them.

“The world is, you know, changing in ways that really require different mindsets and different applications of tools. We have these tools and we are just applying them to building better phones. I mean, for goodness sake, can we apply them [to] anything else?” Ordóñez said.

The goal of the class is to figure out how housing insecurity begins and what could be done to help it. Working with Montgomery County Homeless Solutions, these models will pull from realistic data from the county.

“The idea would be that the data then could be useful to craft a model that to some degree reproduces the reality on the ground,” Ordóñez said.

Ordóñez said that the reactions to the new class have been positive. His engineering colleagues are excited and fascinated by the potential of the class; Ordóñez’s students are excited and really enjoying the class; and Montgomery County Homelessness Solutions are incredibly enthusiastic about the class’s potential.

“We have to change the direction of things,” Ordóñez said. “And so this is essentially my way to respond to that, to just give these young students the tools that they demand, that they really want to have.”

Students are currently working on their finals, which are presentations on homelessness. They will present their findings to members of Montgomery County Homeless Solutions and Housing Services.

Garrett is a WYSO intern and graduate of University of Dayton. He spent time covering the Dayton area with WDTN Channel 2 News after the 2019 Memorial Day Tornado outbreak. It was around this time that he began listening to NPR and fell in love with radio-based journalism. Garrett graduated from UD in May of 2021 with his Bachelor’s in Communications with a focus in journalism and graduated in May of 2022 with his Master’s. While not working at WYSO, Garrett is an avid reader, loves to play video games, and hanging out with his friends.