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College of Engineering and Computing

  • group of UofSC students poses with children in Ecuador

Q&A with Nicole Kent: Looking back on Engineers Without Borders' trip to Ecuador

CEC Communications Staff | January 21, 2020

From January 2 -10, 2020, five University of South Carolina students went to Ecuador as part of the Engineers Without Borders student organization. These students worked hand-in-hand with local members of the El Cedro community to improve the community’s access to clean water and to build upon the work of past trips.

We sat down with Nicole Kent, a civil engineering major and the vice president of the UofSC EWB chapter, to learn more about this year’s trip.

What was your team able to accomplish for the El Cedro community in your time there?

While in Ecuador, we were able to accomplish our three main goals which were monitoring previous repair work done on the community’s water pipeline, assessing and planning for the construction of an additional central water storage tank, and implementing point of use filtration systems for each household.

For monitoring the previous pipeline repairs, we walked along sections that EWB students fixed in January 2019 as well as sections that community member have been fixing throughout the past year based on methods that the previous EWB students designed and taught them. For the additional storage tank construction, we were able to survey the land in the community’s central area – where the tank will likely go. We also took dimensions of the existing water storage tank, made a preliminary design of the addition tank and had pricing estimates done by a local hardware store for the construction materials. Finally, we were able to implement Sawyer Filters in each household in the community that use hollow fiber membrane technology to remove contaminants from water. We also performed water testing on the influent and effluent water from these filters to ensure the effective removal of suspended solids, including bacteria.

What do you think was the most impactful thing that EWB was able to provide the community?

I think the most impactful thing that EWB is able to provide to El Cedro is knowledge and encouragement. The community is so willing and eager to improve their water system, so just being able to be there, talk to them, and work with them on that is probably the most impactful thing we can do. It was so encouraging to see community members from all generations stepping in to help each other as we were putting together the Sawyer filters, and it was especially impactful to see the younger kids helping with this as they are the future of their community.

Looking back on the trip, what is your favorite memory from your time in Ecuador?

I have a lot of favorite memories from in Ecuador – like riding an hour on a dirt road in the back of a pickup truck to get to El Cedro each day and having the kids in the community teach us how to dance to Ecuadorian folk music. But, my absolute favorite was the day that we spent implementing the Sawyer filters into the community. EWB has had an ongoing research project on these filters for almost two years, so to see the community get so excited to use them was awesome!

Were there any specific moments during the trip that required you to use your engineering background, or something that you learned in a class here at the college?

Yes, we had the land surveyed so that we would be able to analyze the pipeline’s flow rate which is a concept that I was first introduced to in Fluid Mechanics. Also, while explaining the importance of the Sawyer Filters and proper water storage techniques, I drew a lot of my knowledge from Introduction to Environmental Engineering. Now that we are back and working on the designs for the additional storage tank, I think some of those design and construction concepts will come from Structural Analysis and Mechanics of Materials to make sure that the new system is able to properly support the loads of the water that it will be containing.

What would be your message to a student that is on the fence about joining EWB?

Just come check it out! Although our project is more civil engineering based, we have had members from each of the branches in the engineering department as well as some public health majors – so everyone is welcome!

Being involved in EWB has been the most rewarding experience of my college career so far because there are so many different opportunities to get involved and gain experience through research, technical report writing, helping with project designs, and traveling. Our faculty and professional mentors are also so great to work with and I know everyone in our organization is thankful for all of their support. Our mentors have always been insistent that this is a student-led organization and project, so we have most of the control and responsibility!

This is different from a lot of internships and research experiences, so it has opened up even more opportunities to grow professionally, so come on and join us! We would love to have you!

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