Four students from UT’s College of Engineering traveled with Dr. Glenn Lipscomb to El Salvador this summer to install a water treatment unit they built earlier in the year.
Kylee Kramer, Alison Haas and Lisa Young, chemical engineering majors, and Kayla Piezer, environmental engineering major, turned their freshman design project into a real-world solution.Students in the Chemical Engineering Department’s fall 2015 orientation class manufactured water treatment units as part of their freshman design experience. They also were tasked with identifying possible improvements to their design and comparing it to alternatives. This design opportunity arose after another engineering student, Lucy Hosenfeld, approached the department about working with the nonprofit Clean Water for the World to produce the treatment units. Hosenfeld previously had worked with the organization and installed a treatment unit.
Following the completion of their freshman design experience and orientation class, Kramer, Haas, Young and Piezer sought funding for a trip to install their treatment unit in El Salvador, where contamination makes access to clean drinking water an increasingly urgent issue. The students collaborated with the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (Center for Exchange and Solidarity) to plan their trip, seeking donations from external donors and obtaining partial support from The University of Toledo.
“This trip provided the real-world experience that is needed to understand the impact of engineering design on the adoption and use of technology to improve the human condition,” Lipscomb, professor and chair of chemical and environmental engineering, said.In El Salvador, contamination arises from inadequate wastewater treatment facilities, especially in rural areas where the majority of the population lives. Addressing this crisis, the students’ water treatment unit has two elements: a micron filter for removal of large particulate matter and a UV light chamber that sterilizes bacteria and other pathogens to prevent proliferation and ability to cause illness. The team also inspected previously installed water treatment units while in the Central American country.
As part of the trip, the student team learned about efforts by the Center for Exchange and Solidarity to support local economic development, create businesses led by women, provide high school and university scholarships, and spread awareness of proper hygiene practices. The team also spent time with local families in Comasagua.
“It was incredible to expand our freshman design project to make a global impact while connecting with the community in El Salvador,” Piezer said. “It gave us the opportunity to examine the specific needs of a different environment, which led to an understanding of the community’s way of life and allowed us to build relationships on a personal level.”
“The journey from design project to real-world application was worth every minute. And seeing the effect our unit had on the communities in El Salvador had a great impact on me,” Haas said. “Though the design project itself had significance, interacting with the people of El Salvador and experiencing their way of living gave me a new outlook on the value of our unit and clean water in general. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.”
Incoming students in the freshman orientation course will continue to build water treatment units as part of the freshman design experience, according to Lipscomb. They will explore improvements to installation, maintenance and performance. The department intends to facilitate future trips to deliver the water treatment units to communities in need.
“I’ve never really been a person who likes to travel, but this trip was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life,” Young said. “It helped broaden my views of different cultures and expand my abilities as an engineer.”
“This trip allowed me to use the skills that I learned in the classroom and put them to use in the real world,” Kramer said. “It was also an amazing experience to see the culture and people of El Salvador while helping them receive a vital aspect of life.”