“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
The late Dr. Steven Dentel lived by this Greek proverb and it helps explain his dedication to the creation of the University of Delaware’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UD). Through his guidance and the work of dedicated students, EWB-UD has continued to “plant trees” through globally-focused charitable work for the past 10 years.
Engineers Without Borders-USA is a non-profit, humanitarian organization of dedicated and enthusiastic students and professionals who believe everyone should have access to adequate sanitation, safe drinking water and resources to meet their basic needs. EWB-UD’s members have worked with professional engineers in international communities to develop and implement projects for clean water and sanitation. The group’s dedication to a worthy mission while giving undergrads the opportunity to do impactful work has captivated the interest of many on campus, especially Honors Program students.
Honors student and former EWB-UD treasurer Cedric Whitney (’17) noted how the combination of engineering, global travel and working on real projects heightened his initial interest in EWB-UD as a freshman and has kept him committed to the organization ever since.
Two trips are being planned for summer 2017. The first trip is to the Sakata Region of Malawi to continue an existing partnership in the region and assess the needs in the village of Chiliman. The second trip is to the Philippines to install a water chlorination and disinfection system for part of Ubujan. To prepare for these trips, EWB-UD members must communicate with engineers and non-profit organizations in these locations to prepare their projects and ensure on-site implementation can run smoothly. Working with people in different time zones who speak different languages has made communication difficult, but current president and Honors student Sarah Hartman (’17) considers an important component of the work that they do.
Hartman got involved early with the project in the Philippines. “I could never undersell my love for starting EWB-UD’s current project in the Philippines,” she said. “Even before we traveled to Ubujan for the first time, I felt a connection with our community contacts.” She spent nearly a year working with them long-distance thanks to technology. Developing those relationships made the arrival to Ubujan easier and more rewarding. “I was able to put face[s] to name[s] and turn this idea of helping Ubujan into a reality,” Hartman said.
In addition to working with people and groups internationally, EWB-UD also does charitable work for the University of Delaware’s surrounding community.
“Two years ago we began an initiative called ReachOut to bring our passion for service to Delaware.” Hartman said. ReachOut helps EWB-UD members bond as they help the community in big and small ways. Most service events are small, but Hartman says, “We are currently in a transition phase where we are trying to form long-lasting partnerships in Delaware like we do abroad. We are currently working with the City of Newark and Downes Elementary School to help design safe biking paths to school. This will likely be a multi-semester or year project.”
While EWB-UD works tirelessly to help local and global communities, the organization has also given students the chance to develop as both an engineer and a person outside of the classroom.
Current Public Relations Chair Noah Kennedy (’19) notes that EWB has given him the opportunity to gain practical engineering experience that can’t be taught in a classroom. With difficult engineering classes, it’s easy for these students to get discouraged with grades and assignments, but EWB-UD projects help put all of that hard work into perspective.
“I think to some extent I’ve learned more about actually being an engineer during my time with EWB than I have in my classes,” Kennedy says. He is learning technical skills in classes and homework, but EWB allows him to apply those skills to real-world problems. “I feel like I’m gaining professional skills that will help me in the future, like how to correctly write an email, how to talk to VIPs, how to manage finances and run a project team in real life, not just in theory.”
Whitney agreed with Kennedy’s sentiments about the value of EWB-UD, specifically focusing on the ability to interact with decision makers. “It’s a great introduction to how things work outside of the University bubble. That holds true of both the campus side of the organization… [and] with the project managers working internationally,” he said.
Hartman has been involved since her freshman year. “To say that EWB has transformed my life would be an understatement,” she said. “[EWB] helped me realize how my passions could be combined into my future goals [and] gave me the skills and confidence I needed to believe that I could make a difference in this world.”
Currently, 11 of the 19 EWB-UD Board Members are in the Honors Program. For anyone interested in learning more, the Spring 2017 meetings are held on Thursdays at 7pm in Gore 205.
Feature written by: Victoria Dellacava, ’17