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Bringing Sustainable Engineering to Ecuador

Members of the University of Maine student group Engineers Without Borders will travel to Ecuador for two weeks in August on an assessment trip they hope will open the door to a long-term project to improve water security in the region.

From Aug. 16–28, six UMaine students and two mentors will stay in La “Y” de La Laguna in the coastal rain forest of Ecuador. La “Y,” which means the “Y” or a fork in the road, is a 300-person community that is struggling with an insufficient supply of drinking water.

A long dry season and inadequate storage is responsible for the low water supply. Residents are now dependent on buying untreated river water from an improvised tanker truck, according to EWB-UMaine members. The group aims to improve water security by helping the community find an adequate source, appropriate treatment, and reliable distribution.

“This trip will help us assess the needs of the community and build relationships that are vital to project success,” says EWB-UMaine member Logan Good. “Thinking ahead, this trip is just the beginning of a great companionship with the people of La ‘Y’ and a fantastic chance to experience global engineering.”

EWB-UMaine is a student chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA. It was founded in 2007 and is made up of students and professional mentors who introduce communities in developing countries to sustainable engineering projects that aim to improve residents’ quality of life. Students from any major can join the group.

Good, a mechanical engineering student from Presque Isle, Maine, is the team’s project leader, co-design leader and assistant health and safety officer. During the trip, he will be responsible for ensuring all scheduled tasks are accomplished and for providing a safe, educational and exciting experience for team members.

This is the second EWB-UMaine trip for Good, who traveled with the group to Honduras in March 2013.

“Engineers Without Borders provides many opportunities to enrich students’ global perspectives and create responsible leaders,” Good says.

During the summer assessment trip, EWB-UMaine members will meet with the community, collect water quality and health data, and discuss possible storage solutions.

Edwin Nagy, a civil and environmental engineering lecturer at UMaine, is the group’s interim adviser and will attend the trip as an engineering mentor. His focus will be on the students’ relation-building efforts as they try to understand the community’s needs and organizational structure. Robert Sypitkowski, an environmental engineer and UMaine alumnus, will provide the main technical guidance on the trip, Nagy says.

Sypitkowski traveled to La “Y” in December to meet community members. While there, he learned that five years ago, a water pump system was constructed, but the system immediately failed and there is no funding to fix it. After conducting water quality tests, he determined a new source and a storage system are needed, and the community agreed, according to Sypitkowski.

Involving the community is an important aspect of the project, according to Nagy. Community members also will be given cameras and encouraged to take photos to spark discussions with EWB-UMaine about future potential projects.

“Having the community involved from the beginning means that the people who benefit from the project are involved in keeping it alive, and it means that needs identified are needs that the people themselves believe they have,” Nagy says, adding the group’s short-term goal is to get to know the community well enough to assess and understand their needs while making friends.

“I am very interested to know their story, make new stories with them, and of course, play some futbol,” Good says of the local residents.

After the assessment trip, the students will work with the mentors to design a suitable water system. Over the next several years, the group will take a series of implementation and monitoring trips to assist La “Y” with at least water storage, if not water quality. Nagy expects the project will take three to five years to complete.

In between trips, the group will work on perfecting their design; raising funds; and analyzing data on water quality, health, satisfaction and political status collected from the community. The data will help the group determine what effect their work is having on the perceived quality of life in the region.

Educational programs will be provided to community members throughout the project term to keep residents informed and encourage sustainability. Programs will include discussion about coliforms and related health risks, as well as information about operation and maintenance of the water system the group implements.

“If all goes well, this will overlap with other projects within this community or neighboring communities and we can have a long-term relationship with the people in and around La ‘Y,’ slowly helping them get to a point where they have the infrastructure for long-term, self-directed growth,” Nagy says.

In 2013, EWB-UMaine completed a five-year effort to implement a community septic system for 28 homes in Dulce Vivir, Honduras. In 2012, the project earned a $25,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation and the EWB-USA “Premiere Project Award” — the only award of its kind given to a student chapter that year. The project taught students how to work with a community to develop and implement a sustainable project, such as the one they are now pursuing in Ecuador.

“I hope the students will gain an appreciation for the many alternative ways of living in the world, a more practical approach to engineering and an increased sense of the options available to them as engineers,” Nagy says.

In February, the group was awarded a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant for work to be completed in Ecuador during the summer. Projects for Peace grants are funded by the Davis Foundation and are awarded to efforts that address conflict resolution and reconciliation, foster understanding, provide opportunity and build community, according to the foundation.

UMaine chemistry student Bryer Sousa also won a Projects for Peace grant in 2013 to install biosand water filters in 50 households in an impoverished rural region of Honduras.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Camire Discusses Benefits of Eating Less Meat for Press Herald Article

The Portland Press Herald interviewed Mary Ellen Camire, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine, for the article “Want to help the planet? Put down that burger.” Camire, who is also president-elect of the Institute of Food Technologists, said “you don’t have to go whole hog and go vegan” to reduce your carbon footprint. She suggested not having meat every night and eating more fruits and vegetables instead. Recent studies also show eating meat contributes to climate change, the article states. “It would help if large numbers of people adopted a couple meatless nights a week,” Camire said.

Caron’s 20-Year Study Inspiration for Huffington Post Quiz

A Huffington Post quiz titled “How much do you know about the sex lives of college students” cited a 20-year study conducted by Sandra Caron, a University of Maine professor of family relations and human sexuality. Caron surveyed more than 5,000 college students between 1990 and 2010 for her research on the sex lives of college students.

Tri-Town Weekly Publishes Q&A with McCarty

Tri-Town Weekly interviewed Kate McCarty, a food preservation community education assistant with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, in advance of UMaine Extension’s sixth annual Backyard Locavore Day on Aug. 9. McCarty will be one of several experts on hand for guided tours of backyards in Freeport and Brunswick for the event. During McCarty’s tour in Freeport, she will demonstrate how to increase self-sufficiency to meet food needs through backyard gardening techniques and food preservation methods. “I love Maine and believe it produces incredible food. I take every opportunity to support our local food producers, and it’s easy to do so with so many talented chefs, farmers, bakers, cheese makers and brewers,” McCarty said.

Vernal Pool Research Cited in MPBN Report on Wood Frogs

Vernal pool research being conducted at the University of Maine was cited in a Maine Public Broadcasting Network report titled “Maine scientist: Wood frogs at risk after unprecedented die-off.” Nat Wheelwright, a professor of biology at Bowdoin College, who has found evidence of a mass die-off of wood frog tadpoles says the deaths underline the importance of stepping up monitoring efforts and mobilizing citizen scientists. “There’s a wonderful program of monitoring vernal pools done by the University of Maine at Orono, and mostly they look at egg-laying, but maybe we want to be involving citizen scientists to go back to those same vernal pools to see how the tadpoles actually do, just to understand if this pattern of die-off is common,” he said. The report also linked to more information on UMaine’s vernal pool monitoring efforts.

Allan Interviewed for Chronicle of Higher Education Article on Hazing

Elizabeth J. Allan, an associate professor of higher education leadership at the University of Maine, was interviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education for an article about a recent hazing incident at Ohio State University. Allan, co-author of a national study on hazing with UMaine research professor Mary Madden, described why few hazing victims identify themselves that way and what might help prevent hazing. “When we ask students to define hazing, they can often articulate the key components: That it’s doing something that could be potentially harmful emotionally and/or physically in order to become a member of the group. But then there’s this disconnect between defining it and recognizing it when it happens to them,” Allan said.

Springuel Talks to BDN About Downeast Fisheries Trail

Natalie Springuel of Maine Sea Grant spoke with the Bangor Daily News about the Downeast Fisheries Trail, which showcases the state’s fisheries heritage at about 50 sites, including historical societies, fisheries museums and places such as the Cherryfield Cable Pool, a favorite spot for Atlantic salmon fly fishermen, the article states. “A trend in travel is that people want to connect to the real thing on the ground,” said Springuel, the coordinator of the trail. “They want to connect with local people. They want to know how they make a living. They want to know how to lobster, and how to pull up a trap. They want really concrete experiences to understand a place on a deeper level, and then they want to taste it at the end. So yeah, I think the fisheries trail provides a deeper understanding of a place and its people.”

AP, Press Herald Advance Maine Ocean Acidification Committee Meeting at DMC

The Associated Press and the Portland Press Herald reported the Maine Ocean Acidification Committee will hold its first meeting on Aug. 1 at the University of Maine Darling Marine Center (DMC) in Walpole. The committee is studying the effects of ocean acidification on the state’s environment and economy. “Maine is taking the lead on ocean acidification on the Eastern Seaboard. We understand that it is a real threat to our marine environment, jobs and way of life,” said Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, House chairman of the commission and sponsor of the bill that created the panel. Devin also is a researcher and shellfish hatchery manager at DMC. The Maine Public Broadcasting Network and WLBZ (Channel 2) carried the AP report.

St. John Valley Times Previews History, Cultural Heritage Conference

The St. John Valley Times reported an Aug. 14 “fact-finding conference” will address the past, present and future efforts of local organizations, including the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine, to preserve the history and cultural heritage of the upper St. John Valley. The conference, put on by l’Association Française de la Vallée St-Jean, will be held at the St. David Catholic Church. The public is invited to attend and participate in the discussion.

Hanes, Grad Student to Study Influential Factors of Diversifying Pollination Sources

Samuel Hanes, an assistant professor of anthropology, received a $28,444 grant from the National Science Foundation for the proposal, “Social capital and policy networks: Exploring the factors that influence adoption of pollinator conservation.”

The project aims to better understand obstacles and influential factors growers face when attempting to diversify pollination sources.

According to the proposal, insect pollination produces about $19 billion worth of crops in the U.S. annually. Farmers rent commercial honeybees to supply most of their crop pollination but the number of hives in the U.S. has dropped by more than 30 percent since 1980, leading to interest in alternate pollination sources.

The project will look at factors affecting lowbush blueberry growers’ use of wild, native bees to supplement honeybees.

UMaine graduate student Kourtney Collum will conduct the doctoral dissertation research project under Hanes’ supervision, and as part of UMaine’s anthropology and environmental policy doctoral program.

Collum will examine the factors that influence farmers’ adoption of pollinator conservation practices through a comparative study of blueberry growers in Maine — where there is an adequate honeybee supply — and Prince Edward Island, Canada — where there is a severe honeybee shortage.

The researchers will look closely at growers’ interaction with and perceptions of agricultural agencies and programs, as well as effects of agricultural policies and overall farm management, according to the proposal.


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