UT College of Engineering News

Freshman design project leads students to El Salvador

Four students from UT’s College of Engineering traveled with Professor Glenn Lipscomb to El Salvador May 14-20 to install a water treatment unit they built earlier in the year. Kylee Kramer, Alison Haas, and Lisa Young, Chemical Engineering majors, and Kayla Piezer, Environmental Engineering major, turned their freshman design project into a real-world solution.

UT engineering students beside the water purification unit they designed

Students in the Chemical Engineering department’s fall 2015 orientation class manufactured water treatment units as part of their freshman design experience. They were also tasked with identifying possible improvements to their design and comparing it to alternatives. This design opportunity arose after another engineering student, Lucy Hosenfeld, approached the department about working with the non-profit Clean Water for the World (CWFTW) to produce the treatment units. Lucy had worked with CWFTW and installed a treatment unit previously.

Following the completion of their freshman design experience and orientation class, Kramer, Haas, Young, and Piezer sought funding for a trip to install their treatment unit in El Salvador, where contamination makes access to clean drinking water an increasingly urgent issue.  The students collaborated with the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS or Center for Exchange and Solidarity) to plan their trip, seeking donations from external donors and obtaining partial support from the University of Toledo. “This trip provided the real-world experience that is needed to understand the impact of engineering design on the adoption and use of technology to improve the human condition,” Dr. Lipscomb said.

In El Salvador, contamination arises from inadequate waste water treatment facilities, especially in rural areas where the majority of the population lives. Addressing this water crisis, the students’ water treatment unit has two elements: a micron filter for removal of large particulate matter and a UV light chamber that sterilizes bacteria and other pathogens to prevent their proliferation and ability to cause illness. The team also inspected previously installed water treatment units over the course of their trip.

The team's water purification unit.

The team’s water purification unit.

As part of the trip, the student team learned about CIS efforts to support local economic development, create businesses led by women, provide high school and university scholarships, and spread good hygiene practices. The team also spent time with local families in Comasagua. “It was incredible to expand our freshman design project to make a global impact while connecting with the community in El Salvador. It gave us the opportunity to examine the specific needs of a different environment, which lead to an understanding of the community’s way of life and allowed us to build relationships on a personal level,” Piezer reported.

Incoming students in the freshman orientation course will continue to build water treatment units as part of the freshman design experience. They will explore improvements to installation, maintenance, and performance. The department intends to facilitate future trips to deliver the water treatment units to communities in need. Kylee Kramer reflected on her experience upon returning home: “This trip allowed me to use the skills that I learned in the classroom and put them to use in the real world. It was also an amazing experience to see the culture and people of El Salvador while helping them receive a vital aspect of life.”

Check out the team’s photo log below.

The Team arrives Los Pinos in San Salvador. Evelyn, second from left, is our CIS guide. Tita, far right, is our wonderful house host.

The Team arrives Los Pinos in San Salvador. Evelyn, second from left, is our CIS guide. Tita, far right, is our wonderful house host.

 

The Team visits a Corpus Christi scholarship recipient and her mother at their home.

The Team visits a Corpus Christi scholarship recipient and her mother at their home.

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The team meets with residents in San Pablo Tacachico to talk with the local water committee about their needs.

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The San Pablo Tacachico water committee and the team pose for a photo.

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The local community provided lunch for the team in San Pablo Tacachico.

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The team boards an oxen pulled cart during their visit to San Pablo Tacachico.

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Left to right, Kayla Piezer, Lisa Young, Alison Haas, Kylee Kramer, and Glenn Lipscomb with the water purification unit that the students constructed in Toledo before installing it in the San Pablo Tacachico health clinic.

Outside Comasagua, Victor shows us where he gets some of his water. It is a steep 10-15 minute hike from his house.

Outside Comasagua, Victor shows us where he gets some of his water. It is a steep 10-15 minute hike from his house.

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The team visits a spring used in Comasagua for water.

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The students who built the purificationunit, left to right: Kayla Piezer, Kylee Kramer, Lisa Young, Alison Haas.

Luis, the CIS expert, inspects the unit.

Luis, the CIS expert, inspects the team’s unit.

Kayla inspects the UV bulb. It appears in good shape.

Kayla inspects the UV bulb. It appears in good shape.

Kylee and Luis clean the glass housing for the UV bulb.

Kylee and Luis clean the glass housing for the UV bulb.

Success! Water flows from the line installed by the students to provide 24/7 access to clean water from the water treatment unit in the San Pablo Tacachico health clinic.


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