June 25, 2008

By Students-LC

Students from engineering and the liberal arts will design a sustainable water system for the village of El Convento

This summer, members of Lafayette’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) representing disciplines in engineering and the liberal arts will begin developing a sustainable water system for the village of El Convento, Honduras. The group will be in Honduras from Aug. 9 – 23.

El Convento, which is located in the Yoro district of central Honduras, will be the third sustainable water project EWB students have worked on in the country since 2003. EWB has also implemented gravity-fed water systems in neighboring Lagunitas and La Fortuna. The group’s previous work garnered national media exposure for being one of six national institutions to receive a $75,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The project demonstrates Lafayette’s dedication to close student-faculty interaction, as Josh Smith, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and John Greenleaf, visiting assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, will be guiding the students’ work in Honduras. Other professors have led previous trips, including Sharon Jones, professor of civil and environmental engineering, director of the Engineering Division, and EWB adviser, and David Brandes, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Jones stresses that opportunities such as this are available due to the College’s focus on engineering and the liberal arts.

“There are so many aspects – learning about a foreign culture and language – that help engineering have a more beneficial impact on society. A problem can be viewed from several disciplinary lenses and by so doing the solution is more sustainable.”

The entire project should take roughly two years to complete. This first trip is for the purpose of site assessment where the students will work with the villagers to begin laying the groundwork for the water system.

Jones explains that while professors provide guidance, the students take full ownership of the project, which provides them with real-world preparation for their futures.

“Students lead these projects and make most decisions in conjunction with the villagers,” says Jones. “It is a tremendous leadership opportunity where they have to communicate with multiple stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds – the users, the funders, those doing the analysis, those managing the project, to name a few.

“It is also a chance to apply their classroom learning to the real world. For the most part, the technologies we work with are simple, but the implementation of these technical solutions in a community is complex. Students learn not only how to design solutions but how to implement them.”

EWB’s work in Honduras is a strong example of Lafayette’s goals in its new strategic plan to provide students with more educational experiences focusing on sustainability and globalization. The Plan for Lafayette calls for a significant increase in the College’s commitment to the study of the natural environment, environmental issues, and environmental policies. A major initiative in the plan is the development of a new environmental studies program and major. The College also plans to expand the geographical and cultural scope of its global offerings by enhancing study abroad opportunities, possibly creating a Center for Global Studies, and expanding the number of languages available for study.

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