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U of M Student Engineers Commit to Bolivian Project for Five Years

A group of UofM engineering students will get a taste of on-the-job training, plus immersion in the culture of a South American country, beginning this summer and continuing for four additional summers.  The local student chapter of Engineers Without Borders will travel to the mountains of Bolivia to assist the town of Yarvicoya with the installation of a system to deliver pure water to its residents.

Engineers without BordersEWB chapter president Stephen Edwards said the team will work with a U.S. group, Engineers in Action, made up of practicing engineers.  After an initial assessment trip this summer, the group will return to Yarvicoya in the succeeding summers to implement, monitor, and close out the project.

Stephens said the local chapter of EWB applied to the national group to bid for the project and were selected from among nine applying groups.  He said U of M engineering professor David Arellano will accompany the group, as well as Brad Davis, an engineer with the SSSR engineering firm in Memphis.  A member of the Engineers in Action group will serve as their on-site liaison with the community. They will also have a driver and a translator with them.

The group of 5-6 students, plus their advisers, will fly to La Paz, the capital  of Bolivia, then drive 8-9 hours through the mountains to reach Yarvicoya.  They will be “housed” in a community shelter, but they’ll be making use of sleeping bags in that shelter. 

“This actually involves more of the University than just the College of Engineering,” Stephens explained.  “We are consulting with the School of Public Health, the School of Nursing, the Department of Sports Leisure, the Department of Anthropology, and other non-engineering disciplines to prepare for the trips.  People in those areas are helping us familiarize ourselves with the Bolivian culture, the health needs we’ll face, and the physical regimen we’ll need to stay in shape.  Yarvicoya is an at altitude of 12,500 feet, which is about two miles above sea level; just living in that environment will be challenging, not to mention the physical nature of the work we’ll be doing there.”

After the initial assessment trip, when the actual construction gets underway, the EWB group will not only oversee that phase of the project, but they’ll also train local people to maintain the equipment and operate the facility.  “Our goal is to set up a permanent, sustainable operation,” Stephens explained, “so that after we leave, the community can continue to benefit from the work we have helped them with.”

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Last Updated: 1/25/12