Jefferson Awards honoree uses engineering skills to help developing countries

May 3, 2012 | News, UToday
By Nicolette Jett

Developing towns in Honduras are in desperate need of clean water to improve sanitary conditions and overall health for the native population. And it is organizations like Engineers Without Borders and leaders like Erin Nichols that are pitching in to help make that happen.

UT student Erin Nichols posed for a photo with children during a visit to Honduras.

Nichols, 23, of Toledo, was recognized as the March Jefferson Awards honoree for her leadership in planning successful water treatment projects in Honduras through the UT chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

Wandering the halls of Nitschke Hall one afternoon in 2008, Nichols ran into a friend who was about to attend an Engineers Without Borders meeting and, out of curiosity, she chose to stay for it.

“I had never heard of the organization before and with my outgoing personality, I thought I would give the organization a chance,” said Nichols, a senior majoring in bioengineering. “Within a month of attending the meetings, I was already signed up for my first trip to Honduras.”

Nichols served as president of the UT chapter of Engineers Without Borders for the past two years. Her responsibilities included giving presentations to donors and local groups to spark interest in the organization, as well as arranging group fundraisers such as working the Huntington Center concession stands, Clean Your Streams, ink cartridge recycling and the annual Build Bridges campaign.

She dedicated her time as president to projects such as working with Maumee Rotary on their Medical Equipment and Supplies Abroad project and taking the lead on research that earned the organization a $10,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The UT chapter of Engineers Without Borders has worked to create a gravity-fed water distribution center and a pedestrian bridge, both for the same community in Honduras.

“Engineers Without Borders provides students with a chance to increase health awareness and give them the avenue to help other developing countries,” Nichols said. “I will receive my engineering degree in May, and I want to be able to use my skills for the advancement of undeveloped areas.”

After her term as president was over, Nichols remained involved in the UT chapter of Engineers Without Borders by leading the new Corporate Sponsorship Committee to foster relationships with local donors and businesses.

“Our goal as an organization is to broaden the minds of engineers and increase their knowledge as to why they are receiving their degrees in the first place,” Nichols said. “What we do as engineers impacts others, so why not use our skills to help developing countries?”

Nichols also is a member of the women’s ultimate Frisbee team and the Wilderness Expedition Club at UT.

If you know of an unsung hero who dedicates his or her time to volunteering and community service, be sure to submit a nomination for the Jefferson Awards at and on Facebook at

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