Engineers Break Down Borders, Part 2

Apr 18, 2018

by Jean Thilmany ASME.org

Part 1 introduced EWB through the eyes of young engineers. In Part 2, they discuss the real-life experiences they gained in the program.

During her time with EWB, Chen has discovered the importance of communication when it comes to fundraising, recruiting new members, directing chapter meetings, and relaying information back with NGOs and people in the field.

“Communication is important because sometimes the communities we work with don’t see the design process in the same way we do as students who are learning about it,” Chen says.

In-country workers on one particular project, for example, weren’t exact in their drilling calculations and didn’t see the need for other student-requested information.

Virginia Tech students and Uganda project leaders, Taylor Newman (left) and Trenton Sorensen (right), hold two children from the Nazareth Children's Home in Uganda.

“We needed aquifer types and hydrological reports and they just wanted to drill test holes and go from there,” Chen says. “We had to be able to explain to them why we needed the information and why we designed it in a certain way, because ultimately want it to be the best project it can be.”

Those lessons ring true for Harvard University EWB chapter member Nicole Trenchard, a junior and a mechanical engineering major. She’s written technical reports, made CAD models, and helped with fundraising during her two-year stint at her school’s EWB chapter.

“We joke about all the blue font on reports,” she says, referring to areas flagged by the professional engineers or faculty mentor. “Some of us have never had a manager before.”

Max Fite is project coordinator for EWB at the University of Minnesota. At 100 members—about 80 of them active at any one time- it’s probably one of the biggest chapters in the country, he says. Though the organization, like the other student chapters, is student led, professional engineers must review designs to make sure they’re technically sound.

Like the other chapters, his organization raises 95 percent of the $15,000 to $35,000 needed annually to fund its projects.

“Anything extra is a bonus,” he says.

We had to be able to explain to them why we needed the information and why we designed it in a certain way, because we ultimately want it to be the best project it can be. Helen Chen, Virginia Tech

This year the chapter has raised $55,000 for its two projects: a water system installation in Paraxaj, Guatemala, and water, irrigation, and agricultural projects in Filakit, Ethiopia. The money comes from grants from University of Minnesota, EWB USA,and individual and corporate donations.

Eva Hansen, a junior at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., summarizes the sentiments of all the students interviewed for this article. She traveled to the Dominican Republic in January 2016 to assess her EWB chapter’s ongoing water-treatment-and-distribution system project at a local school

“I’ve really seen the impact individuals can have on issues of greater significance,” she says, regarding her trip in 2016 to the Dominican Republic to assess her EWB chapter’s ongoing water treatment and distribution project at a local school For a group of undergraduates with professional advisor to successful implement a system in a different country, that shows we’re all capable of a lot more than we believe we are.

Jean Thilmany is an independent writer.