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10-14-2008

Clarkson University Students Work to Give Ecuador Village Clean Water

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/ce212.jpg]

Students from across Clarkson University disciplines are joining forces to find solutions to unclean drinking water in an Ecuadorian village through Engineers Without Borders (EWB) USA, an international organization with a two-year old Clarkson chapter of 43 students.

The young scholars of the Clarkson chapter of EWB-USA, ranging from engineering, to biology, to digital arts & sciences majors, decided to take their budding organization on the road this summer to La Margarita, a small village of 320 people in need of several everyday necessities, including, most importantly, clean drinking water. ce212

Civil & Environmental Engineering graduate student Andres Orlando, who hails from Ecuador, first found the project while he was home on vacation. "We had already chosen Ecuador, but we weren’t getting a lot accomplished with finding the right town as our pilot project," he said. "So, I asked around to my family members and friends and along the way someone suggested La Margarita."

Led by Assistant Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering Shane Rogers, four students in EWB spent a week in August in Ecuador to make assessments of the village and form relationships with the townspeople.

"We were collecting data through testing for pesticides, herbicides, bacteria, and other pollutants in their river water, ground water, and irrigation canals -- every source the people take drinking water from, as well as from the water stored for drinking in their homes," said Gabrielle String ’11. "We also conducted public health, land, and structural surveys of all 75 homes in the community."

Most importantly, the group had the opportunity to meet the townspeople face to face and build relationships, giving them more of an idea of their needs. "A lot of groups just go in and give a town money," said Orlando. "That doesn’t work. We want to give them something useful that will last."

The project is also being used to train undergraduate engineers in the classroom. Students in Professor Susan Powers’ Civil Engineering 212 class are working on point-of-use solutions to provide rapid access to clean drinking water in each home. They will present their solutions to the EWB design team the week of October 13. The best solutions will be explored as options for La Margarita.

The group intends to go back to Ecuador in December with a few of the best sample ideas for the town to choose from. Once a choice has been made, EWB will construct the product and head back to Ecuador to set it up and educate the townspeople on how it works. The group hopes to expand the chosen prototype to other towns and eventually do more humanitarian work in La Margarita focusing on wastewater issues.

"You can’t get a better education in the area of ’technology serving humanity’ than this," said Powers.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Environmental Engineering sophomores Rebecca E. Jenness (left) and Christina M. Chapman (right) test a water filter to remove E. Coli pathogens from drinking water. These and other students in the CE212 class are working with the Clarkson University chapter of Engineers Without Borders to develop easy-to-use household drinking water treatment technologies to reduce water-borne diseases in the village of La Margarita in Ecuador.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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