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Volunteers apply education to help abroad

Group seeks sustainable Costa Rica water system

Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013

Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013 00:10

Not many undergraduates get the chance to apply what they’re learning in class to their daily lives. However, the members A&M’s chapter of Engineers without Borders take their skills around the globe, with projects both locally and internationally.

Founded in 2005, the A&M chapter of Engineers Without Borders uses engineering skills to complete sustainable projects for communities. The organization has several local projects and a larger ongoing project in Costa Rica.

“It’s a practical application of what you’re doing in class,” said Ryan Skinner, junior electrical engineering major who serves as one of the leads of the Costa Rica project. “We get to work with the engineering practice, work with the mentors, do the reports, work on all that. It’s just good experience.”

For international projects, EWB sends a team of seven students and a mentor. The Costa Rican project seeks to assist a small community near the Texas A&M Soltis Research Center by providing learning facilities and an efficient water system. In the past, teams built a computer center for everyone in community and installed a septic system. In 2012, EWB installed a stretch of pipeline to aid water supply to local households. In the summer, EWB installed three water tanks to supply the community with water during all times of the day.

Ryan Priest, junior civil engineering major and one of the leads for the Costa Rica Project, said the EWB’s current focus is finding ways to create sustainability among their previous projects.

“We are still going to be looking at helping the water system out,” Priest said. “Right now we are looking at a few problem areas that have low pressure. We’re also looking into ways that can fix the pressure problem, but also create a very long term solution. For our next project we are looking into ways that can really solve all these issues for 20-30 years.”

Some of EWB’s past local projects include creating a “Dino Dig” exhibit in the Children’s Museum of the Brazos Valley, constructing a playground for Scotty’s House and going to community schools to educate children about engineering principles. Recently, the EWB proposal for changing the shower heads in Mosher Hall to conserve water was approved.

Tyler Buffington, junior aerospace engineering major and local projects coordinator, said they are currently constructing a wheelchair ramp.

“We are designing a wheelchair ramp for a woman in the community who is an amputee, and her current wheelchair ramp is too steep for her to use very often, so she’s essentially trapped in her home at times,” Buffington said.

While EWB receives some funding from the University, the vast majority of its funds come from corporate sponsors.

“On the usual trip, the students who travel won’t have to pay for much of anything,” Priest said. “They maybe will have to pay for their insurance going down there, maybe a piece of their plane ticket, but for going down there, it’s not much at all.”

Receiving money from sponsers requires EWB to generate grant reports, which make up a large amount of the preparatory work for any international project.

Skinner also said the work that EWB does in Costa Rica continues to impress its corporate sponsors, allowing the organization to repeatedly renew its funding.

“You kind of build a reputation with these donors, and you get invited again,” Skinner said. “You’ll use the money, you give them the grant report, and they’ll say, ‘Hey we really liked that project. We’d like to invite you to apply again.’”

Freshman biomedical engineering major, Shannon Voyles, said EWB helps engineering students develop their skills while also making a positive global impact.

“It allows us to help out others and keep the quality of life of the world improving,” Voyles said. “This also helps develop the engineering skills of the undergraduate students by giving hands-on experience and the opportunity to apply what we are learning in the classroom.”

EWB members don’t have to be engineering majors, and the experiences gained from participating are valuable no matter the degree. Skinner said the time he spent in Costa Rica deeply impacted him.

“We were there for 13 days and we lived with the local families, spent our time with them, played soccer with them, ate three meals a day with all the local host families,” Skinner said. “It was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”


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