Building Bridges and Friendships

img-seniorproj-bldgbridges-photos2Imagine living in a village without a reliable source for fresh water, or living in a remote village without access to food or health care during the rainy season. In the U.S., what we struggle to imagine is what many people in Guatemala face every day. MSOE’s Engineers Without Borders is a student organization that aims to improve the quality of life of those in underprivileged areas by implementing economical and sustainable engineering projects.

“EWB is a great organization for people who are looking to serve others with the technical abilities they learn in school,” said Marly Trier, an MSOE sophomore who is double majoring in architectural engineering and construction management.

EWB-MSOE members travelled to Guatemala in February 2013. One group went to Chortiz to build protective enclosures around the shallow wells providing most of Chortiz’s potable water, and construct a tank and lavadero to minimize losses from overflow and inefficient use. They ensured that the village council developed its own protocol for fair distribution of water in dry months. Dr. Willie Gonwa, assistant professor, and a professional engineering mentor travelled with the students and oversaw their work.

“We built the majority of the water system,” said Tiffany Biagini, architectural engineering senior. “Even more, we were able to do a lot of data collection by testing water samples and soil samples, taking a survey of the area, and finding the chlorine demand of the water. All of this will help us in the future as we plan for a possible next project in the area.”

“Designing and implementing water systems is a way I can serve others with the skills I am acquiring as a student at MSOE,” said Alli Zimont, biomolecular engineering junior. “My experience with EWB has motivated my school work more than I had anticipated.”

A second group traveled with Dr. Doug Stahl, professor, and two Milwaukee professional engineer mentors. Their mission was to build a bridge in the Mayan village of Muculinquiaj that linked the village to the regional road system and the town of Joyabaj. The existing road was impassable during the rainy season, leaving residents without reliable access to marketplaces, health care and schools.

img-seniorprojects-bldgbridges-photos3“It was an amazing experience,” said Larissa Boesiger, architectural engineering junior. “Not only were we able to build a physical bridge, we also built one between the MSOE community and the community in Muculinquiaj.”

In 2012 students from EWB-MSOE visited the site to conduct final surveys and evaluation, and the students spent the year completing their design. Their trip in February focused on excavating bedrock and constructing the bridge abutments. A third group of students returned to Muculinquiaj in late March with Dr. Todd Davis, assistant professor, to finish the reinforced concrete vehicular bridge.

“Despite being in the immediate wake of a civil war and being one of the 100 poorest countries in the world, Guatemala has been polled as one of the happiest, or most positive in the world. And it shows in the demeanor of the villagers,” said Alex Kollman, biomedical engineering junior.

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