Environmental Engineering Student Wins Support for Nicaragua Project

By John Giardina

In 2006, a scholarship fund was set up to honor Katie Bu, an Environmental Science and Natural Resources Management and Engineering student who had passed away.  The fund is dedicated to providing support to projects that work toward Katie’s vision of a more environmentally conscious and sustainable planet.

This year’s recipient is environmental engineering junior Dana Boyer, who is receiving support for an Engineers Without Borders (EWB) project.  Together with Scott Cipoletti (CE ’12), Dana is leading an effort in Nicaragua to build an effective and sustainable road that could act as a literal lifeline to help pull hundreds of people out of poverty.

Dana and Scott are conducting their project in a small village called La Prusia, just outside of the city of Granada.  The people of La Prusia are isolated from the surrounding area, including Granada, due to the lack of a proper road leading out of the village, keeping them stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty.  Student members of UConn-EWB have previously visited La Prusia to assess the situation there.  These efforts and a description of the problems in La Prusia can be found here.

The Katie Bu Scholarship will allow Dana to focus on working toward a long term solution while also making sure the citizens of La Prusia get the relief they need now.  With Scott and other EWB members, she plans to return to La Prusia this summer.  The team will collect information on the soil type and vegetation surrounding the road, which will allow for more accurate models that can be used to design a drainage system around the road.  They will also collect information from local cement and steel manufacturing plants about the types of waste they produce and whether that waste could be used as a sustainable and cost effective alternative to Portland cement, the standard type of cement used in projects such as this.

Beyond data collection, Dana will try to implement a variety of immediate solutions to mitigate the problems of the road.  One such solution is the installation of a trash rack over a previously constructed drainage culvert.  The trash rack would prevent the buildup of trash, which currently interferes with drainage and causes flooding.  Dana is hopeful that the trash rack, coupled with community education efforts that EWB hopes to lead, would also discourage people from disposing of their trash in the road, improving the environment in general in La Prusia and making it a more hospitable place to live.

If there is one thing that EWB focuses on the most, it is the recognition that smart engineering solutions must go hand in hand with environmentally, culturally, and politically sensitive methods.  Dana’s past efforts in La Prusia exemplify this idea.  It is her hope that the Katie Bu Scholarship will enable her to continue her efforts toward success.

Speaking of the project and EWB, Dana says, “As a chapter, we know that the solution to this problem will not be solved overnight.  But, with the help of the Katie Bu grant, the service trip this upcoming summer will only fuel our progress.”

Both engineering and non-engineering students are invited to join this project.  Students can find more information about the project here or contact the project chairs at TheNicaraguaProjectUC@gmail.com.  Also, donations can be made to the Nicaragua project and other EWB efforts here.

Published: May 19, 2011