Engineers Without Borders-UM Travels to Ecuador

Team completes second phase of water development project in 25 de Diciembre during winter intersession

Engineers Without Borders-UM students John Mark Huff (left), Lena Turner and Boltin Teeter install groundwater monitoring probes during their recent trip to 25 de Diciembre in Ecuador. Submitted photo

Members of the University of Mississippi chapter of Engineers Without Borders recently traveled to the Ecuadorian highland community of 25 de Diciembre to complete the second phase of a water development project there.

During the 2019 winter intersession, the EWB-UM team, consisting of six students and two faculty advisers, entered the second part of the project, working at an altitude of more than 2 miles high.

Initially, the community of 800 people and EWB-UM completed an “adoption” process on Jan. 25, 2018.

“This adoption process is similar to a client hiring a consulting firm,” said Paul Scovazzo, co-faculty adviser and UM associate professor of chemical engineering. “EWB-UM has committed to be 25 de Diciembre’s consulting firm for at least five years, and we are committed to engineer projects that the community wants.”

The first project is to increase the water supply to the community, its school and its health center.

Engineers Without Borders-USA runs service learning projects, so the goals of the winter intersession trip, which ran Jan. 4-19, were to create knowledge and build deeper understanding and relationships between the community and EWB-UM.

“The trip created knowledge in the students, in the professors and about the hydrogeology of the community,” Scovazzo said. “Service learning assumes that engineering is learned by doing and professionalism built by serving others.”

EWB-UM’s first field trip to Ecuador in May 2018 consisted of fact finding. The team interviewed households, medical professionals and school officials. One of the team members was chemical engineering senior Olivia Wagg, who reported that 30 percent of the community’s children have water-related illness and averaged two hours daily just fetching water.

In addition to students canvassing households, mechanical engineering majors Jack Holiman and William Horner and civil engineering major Benjamin Koltai spent their time gathering information on site geology, water sources and water quality. They were assisted by Dennis Powers, UM adjunct professor of geology and geological engineering.

During the January 2019 winter intersession, undergraduate and graduate students learned how to use high technology combined with standard engineering fieldwork techniques to determine the location and levels of groundwater for potential new community water sources.

Geological engineering majors Luke Cowart and Boltin Teeter and mechanical engineering majors John Mark Huff and Lena Turner installed 14 groundwater monitoring probes and surveyed potential water delivery pipeline routes. In addition to learning how to use traditional surveying total stations, the students used satellite-assisted surveying methods. Geological engineering graduate students Wesley Bluvstein and Zach Bray mentored the undergraduates and performed electromagnetic ground conductivity to help map the subsurface groundwater resources using an EM-31 meter.

“Lugging the EM-31 through the highlands was no easy task, but it sure was easier than chasing the llama that we tried to strap it to,” Cowart said.

Other tasks for this second trip included the installation of a weather station at the 25 de Diciembre school. With the station, donated by EWB-UM, the community’s students can help record rainfall and track the water balance for their water sources. EWB-UM also trained some of the community members to operate the new groundwater monitoring probes and record all measurements.

“This is a great learning opportunity for both EWB members and this community,” said Robert Holt, co-faculty adviser on the trip and professor of geology and geological engineering. “Working together, 25 de Diciembre and EWB can solve the community’s water needs for decades to come.”

Turner said her biggest takeaway was seeing how integral the community was to the success of the project.

“All of the technical work would be in vain without the necessary involvement,” she said. “The political portion of the project allowed the team to go beyond applying technical knowledge. Consequently, we gained a better understanding of the multifaceted role of engineers.”

The workday during the winter intersession trip typically started at 7:30 a.m. with a team family-style breakfast and a review of the task assignments for the day. The day ended with a family-style dinner and a review of lessons learned.

“We had an excellent team for this fieldwork,” Holt said. “We accomplished all our goals for this trip despite the difficulties of working at high altitudes. The students worked as a team and learned on the job. It was a pleasure to work with them.”

The trip took the team members from their safe and cozy lives of book learning and threw them into a place that challenged their worldview, taught them life skills and gave them an opportunity to change the lives of others, Huff said.

EWB-UM is a student-led organization chartered in 2007. In the past 10 years, the chapter worked in the Hedome Village in Togo, West Africa. During this decade, it completed a new schoolhouse and installed a deep water well to deliver safe drinking water to a children’s hospital.

The chapter is over 100 members strong and made up of students from all over the world, of all backgrounds and in all academic majors. The common bond: the strong desire to help others and improve communities across all borders around the globe.

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