Overall Rating Silver - expired
Overall Score 53.50
Liaison Amy Kadrie
Submission Date Jan. 31, 2019
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.1

University of Rochester
IN-25: Innovation B

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 1.00 / 1.00
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Name or title of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:
Engineering Students Build Clean Water System in Dominican School

A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome that outlines how credit criteria are met and any positive measurable outcomes associated with the innovation:

During their winter break of January 2017, six members of the University’s Engineers Without Boarders chapter—mechanical engineering majors Grace Caza ’17, Burak Tuncer ’17, and Fernando Suarez ’18, biomedical engineering majors Eva Hansen ’18 and Dilshawn Gamage ’19, and Ab Salazar ’19, a dual major in computer science and economics—along with their professional mentor Dwight Harrienger, a Rochester-based civil engineer at the consulting firm Stantec, travelled to the rural community of Don Juan, where Escuela Taller Santa Maria Josefa Rosello is located. There, they implemented a water disinfection system in preparation for supplying the school with potable water.

This was the chapter’s third annual trip to the site as part of a five-year commitment to design and integrate the system and educate the community about maintaining it going forward. The project gives University students the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom to engineering problems in developing countries, and empowers the communities to sustain these systems.

“Being able to build this thing we had been planning for years was very fulfilling.”
This third trip was a culmination of years of planning, fundraising, and developing community relations with a school 1,700 miles from Rochester.

“The project involved many parts, starting here in Rochester with the planning process,” says Suarez. “On this implementation trip, being able to build this thing we had been planning for years was very fulfilling.”

University EWB members first went to the Dominican Republic in 2015, when they met with community partners and conducted initial water assessments. They inventoried various local hardware stores to determine material availability and the feasibility of transporting these materials along mostly dirt roads to the school. The second assessment trip in 2016 involved more detailed water analyses and bacterial testing. Once they gathered the data, they created three designs, and submitted these, along with the pros and cons of each, to the national EWB headquarters and to their partners in Don Juan.

Although only a handful of students go on each trip, the University’s EWB chapter includes many more students, all of whom assist with various aspects of the project, from designing the plans and fundraising, to creating an instructional video and manual in Spanish that explains the system for residents.


“The people in Don Juan are very friendly, warm, and receptive,” Suarez says. “They didn’t know us, but they received us with open arms.”

“I had my fluid dynamics textbook from my class with Professor Aluie with me while we were doing the project because we had to do pressure loss calculations and that sort of thing.”

Team members stayed with host families in the rural town of Don Juan, about an hour from the country’s capital of Santo Domingo, and home to approximately 9,000 people.

One of the main objectives of EWB is not only to provide solutions to infrastructure and engineering problems, but to teach communities how to sustain these systems themselves.

“Our goal is to have the community members be completely self-sufficient,” says Gamage. “If something breaks in the system, we want them to be able to fix it or to understand it enough to be able to tell us exactly what the problem is, and then we can advise them as to how to fix it.”

To accomplish this goal, the team organized workshops, question and answer sessions, and a tour of the structures to show parents, school staff, and community members exactly how the system worked. They showed the instructional video and left community members with a reference manual on how to monitor the system.

“We realized we had to describe fully what we were doing,” says Tuncer. “We couldn’t just come in and say, for instance, ‘we’re going to put chlorine in the water.’ We needed to describe to them why we’re putting in chlorine and what it does, because if it isn’t something they understand, then they’re hesitant to apply this.”


Before they could even begin designing the system or outlining strategies to purify the water, the students had to determine the exact source of contamination.

After testing the water at various stages and locations throughout the school, they determined the main source of contamination was bacteria found in water stored in a rooftop “tinaco”—a large water tank that holds the water before it is distributed throughout the building.

“One thing I learned that was reiterated in school is that engineering is not an exact science… You can lay out a project on the computer and have all the exact diagrams and calculations, but then you might get there, turn on the system, and have a pipe burst.”
Water tests indicated that the main bacteria culprits were coliform and E. coli, which can provoke symptoms such as abdominal pain, fever, and vomiting. The team discovered the water in the tinaco contained hundreds of coliform colonies.

“The problem was that the water in the tinacos is sitting water where bacteria can easily grow,” Gamage says. “It was very, very high risk.”

They addressed the problem by thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the tinaco, moving a jet pump from the school’s library to the outside shed, and installing the new pump, chlorinator, pressure tank, and piping system. After this construction was complete, the team shock chlorinated the water disinfection system before connecting it to the school’s existing water distribution system. Once the system was complete, the team waited for a time when school was not in session to disinfect and flush it using a chlorine shock.

“I had my fluid dynamics textbook from my class with Professor Aluie with me while we were doing the project because we had to do pressure loss calculations and that sort of thing,” Tuncer says, referring to Hussein Aluie, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Hajim School.

In addition to drawing from their classroom knowledge, the group worked with the Rochester Water Bureau to learn, for example, how to put cement around pipes, conduct pressure testing, and properly disinfect a well and plumbing system. They also had help from community mentors, including Harrienger, who assisted the students in evaluating options, designing systems, and integrating improvements.

“The role is different than at work, where I’d be in more of a project manager role, which is more directive,” Harrienger says. “Here the goal is to let the students expand their level of comfort with decision making and responding to project challenges.”

The team also had to be conscious of only purchasing materials that could be found in or near Don Juan, part of a commitment to support local businesses and ensure that community members have available materials.

“A big part of EWB and what we do is sustainability,” Tuncer says. “Even though we facilitate this project for the community, it’s important that they know what we do, and how to maintain and operate it. All the materials we use in the project have to be locally purchased so they can be replaced locally if anything goes wrong.”

There were other challenges, such as working around government-mandated routine power outages that shut off electricity in various regions, for hours or even days at a time. On these days, they often worked late into the evenings, sometimes until midnight or into the early morning hours, relying on lanterns.

“It was tough to deal with the ambiguities that come with doing projects in developing countries,” Salazar says.

“One thing I learned that was reiterated in school is that engineering is not an exact science,” Gamage says. “It’s a lot of troubleshooting and figuring out things on the fly. You can lay out a project on the computer and have all the exact diagrams and calculations, but then you might get there, turn on the system, and have a pipe burst. I learned how to deal creatively with problems in that sense.”

The project cost approximately $4,000, excluding travel expenses. University students funded travel and supply costs with University support including a Hajim grant, USEED crowdfunding, independent donations from individuals and local companies such as KodakAlaris, and various campus fundraisers including dinners and dances.

A group of students from the University’s EWB chapter will return to Escuela Taller Santa Maria Josefa Rossello in January 2018 for their first of two monitoring trips. As Eva Hansen explains, they’ll do things such as “help the community understand the necessity of repairing dead ends in the system, such as broken toilets and sinks,” thus reducing the opportunities for bacterial growth.

Which of the following impact areas does the innovation most closely relate to? (select up to three):
Public Engagement

A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise or a press release or publication featuring the innovation :

The website URL where information about the programs or initiatives is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

Data source(s) and notes about the submission:

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