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PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo NOVEMBER 2005 - VOLUME 15, NUMBER 3
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A Human Touch
By Lynne Shallcross

STUDENTS AT THE COLORADO SCHOOL OF MINES ARE LOOKING FARTHER THAN THE FRONT OF THE CLASSROOM.

In the blisteringly hot October heat of Honduras, it wasn’t the teary thank you’s that showed Heidi Bauer what her engineering help meant to the village of Colinas de Suiza. It was the “bodyguards.” Bauer, a graduate student working with the new Colorado School of Mines (CSM) undergraduate humanitarian engineering minor, and her fellow humanitarian engineering students recently won an award for a water and sanitation project they designed for the Honduran village of about 1,600 families.

Colinas de Suiza, with bodyguards watching over studentsDuring their visit to Colinas de Suiza last year, the students were given “bodyguards”—village residents who took the day off from work to watch over the students and make sure they could collect their data without any problems. Considering the high rate of unemployment, Bauer notes that these residents must have been willing to lose their jobs to be with the students. “That’s what struck me the hardest,” she says. “This is huge what we’re doing right now.”

Water has to be hauled into the village in 55-gallon barrels on trucks, and the village’s wastewater system threatens to contaminate the water supply. The CSM group worked with engineering students from the Universidad Tecnologica Centroamericana in Honduras to design a solar-powered water-pumping and sanitation system. Competing against 110 international teams, the students won the DaimlerChrysler and UNESCO Mondialogo Engineering Award for $18,000. The award is aimed at promoting intercultural dialogue among young engineers around the world.

The total project cost is estimated to be about $1.5 million, says David Munoz, faculty adviser to the Honduras project and interim director of the division of engineering. So although the award can’t cover the cost of the project, it will help fund travel and fundraising to pay for the project.

The undergraduate humanitarian engineering minor, sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, began in 2003 and currently has 20 students enrolled. Munoz says one of the motivators for the minor was attracting minorities and women, students he says would be more drawn to engineering if it offered a service component. The Honduras project is one of 16 that humanitarian engineering students have undertaken, ranging in location from their backyard of Colorado to the western Saharan nation of Mauritania.

This August, the National Science Foundation awarded CSM a grant to develop an additional humanitarian engineering minor for the graduate level, which program officials say they hope to offer in three years.

The popularity of organizations like Engineers Without Borders and the growing number of people looking for socially conscious ways to use their engineering degrees show a strong need for this type of program, says Juan Lucena, an associate professor in the division of liberal arts and international studies who has been involved in developing the minors at both levels.

The new humanitarian minor won’t affect only families in villages like Colinas de Suiza. It will also have enduring effects for the students, Munoz says. He suspects the students will seek out service projects in traditional engineering atmospheres or maybe careers with the United Nations or the Peace Corps. “These are life-changing experiences for these students. They realize that the world is both a little larger and a little smaller than they realized.”

Lynne Shallcross is associate editor of Prism.

 

FEATURES
COMPETING FORCES - By Alvin P. Sanoff
MAKING IT THROUGH THE MAZE - By Mary Lord
OPENING DOORS - By Alice Daniel
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COMMENTS
CONTRIBUTORS
BRIEFINGS
DATABYTES
TECH VIEW: Think Big, Teach Small - By Mary Kathleen Flynn
TEACHING TOOLBOX
CIRCLE OF SUPPORT - Engineering schools are developing programs to help their female students fit in. - By Margaret Loftus
BOOK REVIEW: The World Is Flat - By Robin Tatu
RESEARCH: A More Perfect Union - By Gary S. Was
ON CAMPUS: A Human Touch - By Lynne Shallcross
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: All in the Family - By Gary A. Gabriele and Jennifer Currey
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