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Thursday, September 28, 2023


Will work for clean water

A UH student organization is planning a trip to Mexico, with no sandy beaches in sight.

Chemical engineering junior Christina Dang formed the UH chapter of Engineers Without Borders in January 2007 after realizing few volunteer organizations were on campus geared toward engineers who wanted to put their skills to practical use.

"Engineering students need something that’s not just a r’eacute;sum’eacute; booster. They need to see that engineering can be fun," Dang said. "Stuff you learn in the classroom can be directly applied to real life. It’s a different kind of opportunity. It’s not just playing with kids, it’s not just donating clothes, it’s not just hammering – it’s applying engineering skills."

EWB has recently taken the first steps to travel to Tula, Mexico and work on its first project – replacing a water pump for the town’s well.

EWB will take its first exploratory and assessment trip to Tula in the fall and assess the situation, including soil conditions and the number of people who will need to have access to the well. Until then, the group will work throughout the summer to best prepare itself for the trip by researching everything about the project, from health safety issues to the acidity of the soil of where the well is located.

"Our plans for the summer are to do research for this community in Mexico in terms of preparing for this trip we will look up issues that are typical in this community," Dang said.

Finding a town willing to fill out and file the proper paperwork was one of the most difficult parts of the process. One of the EWB members visited family in Tula over the winter break and proposed the group work with the town, Dang said.

Non-governmental organizations in Mexico act as a liaison between the group and the town, she said. The EWB-USA has to officially approve any proposals before a trip takes place. The paperwork for the trip to Tula is being processed by the official organization now.

The UH organization won a $500 award in February, which it will use toward the trip in the fall, after it entered a contest sponsored by the Engineering Alumni Association during Engineering Week. For the competition, the group proposed its plans to work with The Awty International School Houston students on a desalination project. The project was not a mechanical one, just a simple method using evaporation, Dang said.

Chemical engineering junior Rhys Forgie joined EWB this spring and said he’s glad to be part of an organization that brings together different disciplines of engineering while helping out the community at the same time.

"The most important thing is giving to the community using engineering skills," Forgie said.

Even though the group is preparing for its first big project, Forgie said a large number of the members are enthusiastic about doing research over the summer.

Part of the responsibility of working members is to search for corporations interested in funding environmental, civil and water projects to fund the group. The group is still trying to find contributors, although the Rotary Club of West U regularly donates funds.

The group’s faculty mentors, mechanical engineering professor Richard Bannerot and civil and environmental engineering associate professor Hanadi Rifai, have helped guide it in the right direction through mentoring and establishing helpful contacts, Dang said.

Rifai is a faculty advisor who helped Dang launch the group and establish its presence on the Internet. She said she approaches her position as a faculty advisor with more of a hands-off approach.

"I think the students don’t need to be told (what to do)," Rifai said. "I’m sure they are very creative, very hard working and with a little bit of positive reinforcement and directing their efforts in the right direction they would definitely do better on their own."

She said she would like to see the group engage in more projects with the local community.

EWB-USA is a national organization with branches in various regions of the country.

"The mission of the EWB-USA is to partner with developing communities to improve their quality of life through the implementation of environmentally sustainable, equitable and economical engineering projects," according to the EWB-USA Web site.

Dang said the idea of a sustainable project, in this case a water pump, is the most important part of the entire mission.

"Sustainability is our key word, meaning it has to be available for the community to repair it, maintain it and replace it if they need to – that’s our motto," Dang said.

The organization targets engineering majors, but it is open to any UH student interested in working with a humanitarian-centered project.

"We just want to be able to teach others about humanitarian work that’s real, that’s sustainable, that completes our education," Dang said. "I want U of H to live up to its name (as) a leader. With this group, engineering students won’t just be about books, it’s going to be about the real world."

Students interested in finding out more about the group can visit

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