Engineering Students to Haiti’s Rescue

Earthquake-shattered Haiti is a world apart from grassy college campuses in Florida, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. Yet for a growing number of U.S. engineering undergraduates, the country serves as a living classroom where they can apply their knowledge and skills to help real people – half a million of whom still live under tarps or tents – recover from the worst natural disaster in modern times.

Consider Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Project Haiti. Led by mechanical engineering associate professor Marc Campere, its goals were to provide Haitians with clean drinking water, expose students to another culture, and give them hands-on experience using their engineering skills to directly help people.  In designing and constructing a solar water purifier, students had to learn how to use solar panels, batteries, pumps and filters – and field test the device to ensure it could dispense drinking water for 500 adults per day. For one orphanage, they devised a way to zap bacteria using ultraviolet light.

Embry-Riddle team on water system for Haitian orphanage:

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Five University of Colorado, Boulder engineering students recently returned from Haiti where they introduced a green energy vocational-training program, paving the way for new infrastructure to distribute power. The team made an initial visit in January to assess the energy needs and employment potential in rural Leogane. The students then mapped out a 250-hour, hands-on curriculum covering the installation, operation, and maintenance of solar, wind, hydropower, and other renewable energy sources for the Mon P’tit Village school there with engineering professors Alan Mickelson and Mike Hannigan.

“This sustainable energy vocational training aims to plant a seed of conscious development,” explained participant Joanna Gordon, a graduate student in mechanical engineering. “By investing in the future and focusing on efficiency and conservation, community needs can be met.” In June, the team returned to Leogane to train six local instructors, who are teaching the curriculum to students in 11th grade and beyond.  The training included a hands-on project: reinstalling the school’s solar electric system, including fixing the angle of the rooftop solar panels to achieve maximum performance.

Meanwhile, Lafayette College students are developing potable water systems, better emergency plans for foreign exchange students, and other disaster-relief projects in Haiti and elsewhere as part of the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program. Now in its second year, the program pairs engineering students with peers from the humanities and other disciplines to devise creative solutions to humanity’s urgent problems.

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