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September 12, 2013

Engineers Without Borders wins award

Student engineering group builds two-in-one school and hurricane shelter

By Doug Vehovec

Former EWB President Richard Obratil and August Pine Ridge resident pose before the completed schoolFormer president of CSU's Engineers Without Borders Richard Obratil poses with a local in front of the completed school in August Pine Ridge, a community in Belize.

In June 2013, students from Cleveland State University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) won the top award in a national competition for their work in the August Pine Ridge community in Belize, a country on the northeastern coast of Central America.

The nonprofit EWB accepts students of all majors and matches chapters up with a location where their skills are needed. It is up to the selected teams to determine what their project will entail.

Joshua Cmar, president of Cleveland State’s EWB chapter, noted his organization’s ideal position to realize projects such as the August Pine School.

“EWB is the only student engineering group that incorporates all disciplines,” Cmar said.

In 2009, an interdisciplinary group of students traveled to Belize for an “assessment trip.” The information they gathered on the community’s needs led to an innovative plan for a new school that doubles as a hurricane shelter.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) awarded $25,000 to the department for their submission “Design, funding, and construction of the August Pine Ridge School/Hurricane Shelter in Belize.” In collaboration with faculty and professional engineers, EWB students conceived, planned and ultimately built the structure.

Five additional winners were selected by NCEES. Each of those winning teams received awards of $7,500. The award is meant to recognize programs that foster collaborations between students and professionals. Winners are selected by a jury of NCEES members and representatives from both academia and engineering organizations.

“We worked with the village to see what priorities were needed, and they needed a school,” said Professor Norbert Delatte, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at Cleveland State.

Dr. Johh Holcomb and a travel team of student engineers in August Pine Ridge in BelizeDr. John Holcomb (third from left) with a travel team of engineers in front of the school during construction.

The school’s additional function as a hurricane shelter was developed by the project team, who recognized that the local community would benefit from the weather-resistant structure. In addition to two years of planning, the construction of the school took 15 months and was completed in June 2012. Construction had to be halted during Belize’s rainy season.

“Labor was mostly done by villagers,” Delatte said. “Except for when precision was required.”

When precise work was necessary, faculty or professional-led student teams of four to six traveled to the Central American country to work for about a week at a time. In total, around eight different teams made the trek to perform various functions.

According to Delatte, his team will put the prize money into an account to fund future projects in Belize. This may include work to improve the water quality and reduce the overall cost of water for the community, areas that the team identified during their work on the school.

A student engineer meets with locals to assess their needs - in this case water A student engineer meets with two locals to assess the community's needs.

The organization partners with communities in need around the globe to provide sustainable engineering projects. By identifying places around the world that need help, EWB's stated goal is to take students out of the classroom to use what they’ve learned to effect real change in people’s lives.

With chapters at more than 180 campuses in the U.S., EWB’s mission is to create transformative experiences for its student membership. Through involvement and training with professionals, the organization trains internationally responsible engineers and engineering students to be leaders.