UD students implement projects in Newark and the Philippines
If you judged the organization by its title, you might expect the University of Delaware’s Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) to work exclusively abroad.
According to 2019 chemical engineering graduate George Wieber, “without borders means that our work transcends local, international and disciplinary boundaries. Ultimately, we hope to create social change by partnering with communities to find the best solutions to the challenges they face.”
In 2019, EWB’s more than 60 members have done just this.
In Newark, participants partnered with the University’s Early Learning Center (ELC) to begin a re-design of its outdoor learning environment.
“The ELC outdoor areas feature a pretty standard playground with rigid, metal structures,” Wieber said. “The center wanted to make it more focused on child learning, development of motor skills and centered around nature-based and self-directed play.”
After collaborating on a master plan for the playground last year with the Departments of Landscape Architecture and Early Childhood Education, the project team kick-started their efforts by building two stages, where students can star in their own performances or seek a quiet, shaded break. The stages, measuring 13 by 18 feet and 20 by 13 feet, respectively, are engineered from nearly 40 plastic pallets. “They’re exactly what you would imagine being used to carry food in a grocery store or for other commercial purposes,” Wieber said.
The group conducted a preliminary design phase, where the stages were modeled using laser-cut pieces of wood to better understand how the pallets would be arranged. According to Wieber, they also incorporated the feedback of the ELC’s most important stakeholders, its students.
“Last year, we presented some ideas to the kids, and they were really excited about it,” Wieber said. “We asked them what they would like to see in their outdoor play environment and what they liked about the parks and play areas they already knew well.”
Final construction this summer will incorporate ADA accessibility and shade sails.
Next year, the team will work with Landscape Architecture and the ELC to support implementation of another part of the master plan. EWB conducts additional year-round “Reach Out” initiatives with the Downe’s Elementary School and other local groups.
In January, nearly 9,000 miles away from Newark in a small Filipino community called Ubujan, a team of EWB students also began construction on a gravity-fed chlorination and distribution system. The realization of nearly four years of work, the system will provide clean, reliable water to more than 1,000 people.
“During our first few days, we laid the foundation by visiting the project site and meeting with the local water council and the contractor,” said sophomore civil engineering major Maija Griffioen. “We wanted to immediately assess what our situation was and to get a full grasp of what we would be able to accomplish during the trip. After that, we were able to get materials delivered on site and do a final run-through of the design itself. In the field, we found that we needed to be adaptable and creative, as some of the material we originally wanted was not available.”
The team also worked with an interpreter to conduct rainwater surveys among members of the local community.
“We sought to be sure that our solution was the best for Ubujan residents and to explore whether local adaptations could be incorporated into our designs,” Griffioen said. “We’re always learning from each other, and one of the best things was that exchange.”
The system’s design utilized existing resources, including a reservoir and borehole well.
“Our goal was to purify the water by killing any fecal coliform or waste,” said Olivia Powell, a 2019 Honors graduate who earned an Honors degree with distinction in mehanical engineering. “We’re pumping water up from the borehole well into a shed and chlorination system that we built. Here, the water is cleaned and then pumped again into the reservoir to await distribution.”
The system is gravity-fed so that water flows in downward-sloping pipes from the outlet of the reservoir to four communal taps placed in various housing clusters.
Griffioen and Powell acknowledged the need to invest in local expertise.
“We want the community to have all of the resources they need on their own,” Griffioen said. “That’s the goal.”
In partnership with the Ubujan Water Council, the students identified and trained individuals who could keep the system up and running.
The project team had integral help from professional mentors and UD Honors alumna Sarah Hartman, who visited the group in the Philippines. Hartman is currently completing her Fulbright award at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City.
Whether near or far, students agreed that their participation in Engineers Without Borders has impacted their time at UD and their future.
“The connection to the community, the amazing mentorship we receive and the friendships I built have kept me going,” Powell said. “EWB has given me motivation during my most challenging engineering courses and has made my work fulfilling. It was important, especially as things got tougher.”
In April, EWB hosted their 12th annual benefit dinner. With more than 90 guests in attendance, the group raised nearly $10,000 for future efforts.
“Each year, I’m blown away by these students’ commitment to designing-for-good and supporting our local and global partner communities,” said Kim Bothi, EWB-UD adviser and director for global engineering. “With the extraordinary progress in the Malawi and Philippines programs, along with the increased service and outreach, we were probably crazy to add local design initiatives. That said, the student-led executive board has proven to be more than capable. With access to the MakerGym and a renewed effort to attract more interdisciplinarity among our students and mentorship team, I can’t wait to see how this organization continues to grow and evolve to meet the challenges of our world. Each of these impactful young leaders should be proud of what they’ve accomplished, and for what’s to come — I’m grateful to be part of their journey at UD.”
Bothi added that a team of students will head to Malawi for additional fieldwork in August.
About Engineers Without Borders
Engineers Without Borders-USA is a non-profit, humanitarian organization of dedicated and enthusiastic students and professionals who believe everyone should have access to adequate sanitation, safe drinking water and resources to meet their basic needs.
The University of Delaware chapter works closely with an international community and professional engineers to identify a local challenge, and then develop and implement a sustainable solution. Since the organization started in 2006, UD teams have completed projects in Cameroon, Guatemala, Malawi and the Philippines.
EWB-UD actively seeks students from all academic backgrounds for its projects. Students from any academic discipline who are interested in becoming a part of the chapter are encouraged to reach out to the organization’s leadership team.