Kenya water project earns ASU engineering students national award

EWB ASU members in Kenya

Arizona State University’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is a winner of a 2014 Premier Project Award from the national EWB-USA organization.

The chapter is being recognized for its work to design and construct sustainable water infrastructure to develop sustainable water resources in a rural community in Kenya. It is one of only three EWB chapters throughout the United States to be given a Premier Project Award this year. The winners were selected from among hundreds of projects, according to an EWB-USA chapter relations manager.

The award recognizes the projects “that deliver high quality, sustainable solutions to help meet the needs of our neighboring communities.” Winners were announced in coordination with National Engineers Week, Feb. 16-22.

In the first three and a half years of the planned five-year effort, ASU students have used their engineering skills to provide the community systems to collect and store potable water, including construction of a rainwater catchment facility and repair of a dam that serves residents of the Bondo-Rarieda community in Kenya.

About 25 students currently are involved in the project, but since it began, as many as 50 students have participated in some way, says senior biomedical engineering student Brittany Duong, president of the EWB ASU chapter. The project team is mentored by Jack Moody, a civil engineer with the Cardno WRG consulting company, and Greg Rodzenko, a civil engineer with the City of Glendale. The chapter’s faculty adviser is Edward Kavazanjian, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Fifteen students have made one or more of four trips to Kenya during the past three summers. With construction of the rainwater catchment system and repair of the dam, members of the community are now able to store water for use during the region’s extensive dry season.

Along with members of the Bondo-Rarieda community, the ASU team’s partners in the project include some of the faculty and 25 or so engineering students at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology in Kenya. Beyond the technological solutions, education and capacity building are key elements of the project. The ASU students have trained local community members in water-system construction and maintenance techniques.

“We want them to understand the technology so they will be able to operate it and repair it in the future,” Duong says.

This year the ASU team plans to help build a hydraulics laboratory at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University so the engineers and others there can conduct their own local water research in the future. The new water infrastructure serves only several hundred people, “but we hope that we have started something that will spread throughout Kenya,” says Duong.

The project got started when EWB ASU members connected with a Kenyan student pursuing a doctoral degree in education at ASU who informed them about the region’s scarcity of potable water.

Because of the Premier Project Award, the EWB ASU team will be featured on the EWB-USA website and in its annual report, as well as in social media. The project’s success has helped attract $31,000 in grants from corporations and philanthropic organizations, such as the Alcoa Foundation, Bechtel, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The EWB ASU chapter is working on other engineering projects, including some in partnership with Native American communities in Arizona. Associate professor Amy Landis and assistant professor Kristen Parrish in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment are co-faculty advisers on those projects.

EWB-USA is a nonprofit organization started in 2000. It solicits support from major corporations that select chapter projects to fund. The organization now has more than 13,000 students, faculty and professional members involved in 350 engineering projects in more than 45 developing countries.