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Mizzou Engineering students build foundation for education abroad

MU Engineers Without Borders President Cole Duckworth, a civil engineering senior, helped lay the foundation in 2007 for a flood prevention project in Brazil by surveying the site.

Members of a Mizzou Engineering student group hope to build better educational opportunities for a Brazilian city even as they deepen their own experience.

MU’s Engineers Without Borders Club (EWB) is working to design a project to alleviate storm water flooding at a vocational school in Santarem, a city along the Amazon River in Brazil. Working with a Brazilian nonprofit organization called Fundacao Esperanca that runs the school, the EWB plans to send a contingent to Santarem next summer to help flood proof the site, said EWB President Cole Duckworth, a civil engineering senior.

“Education really is the focus for this project,” Duckworth said. “Because if it’s flooded, there’s no point in having built the school.”

The Santarem project represents a five- to 10-year commitment for the humanitarian Mizzou organization, launched locally in 2006 to improve the quality of life in developing nations through sustainable engineering projects. The national EWB organization is about eight years old and based in Colorado, according to its Web site.

Mizzou’s chapter sent a team to Santarem in 2007 to survey the nonprofit’s 20-acre school site, mapping the topography and seeking the source of its flooding woes. Now the Mizzou group is analyzing its team’s findings to determine the most effective and easily maintained storm water management measures.

The project design must take into account the Amazon region’s unique characteristics, such as its concentration of disease-transmitting mosquitoes and heavy rainfalls, Duckworth said. It also must be largely maintenance free, he said.

“This is an interesting and challenging project because of the absence of design data that we use on domestic projects in the United States, the lack of construction equipment and materials, land ownership issues, the difficulty in finding funding for construction and our knowledge that there will be no maintenance of the system after construction,” said Robert Reed, a Mizzou Engineering research associate professor and the group’s adviser.

Among the projects that the EWB team is considering are energy dissipation structures to settle sand that the storm water tends to carry with it and stabilizers to prevent channel erosion, Duckworth said.

Whatever shape the project takes, EWB members will gain hands-on engineering experience while learning about another culture. That’s an aspect of the project that Duckworth finds particularly appealing.

“Establishing a relationship and learning how to communicate effectively with another culture really adds a unique and exciting dimension to the project that both sides can benefit from,” Duckworth said.

Contact Cole Duckworth for additional information or to contribute to the MU Engineers Without Borders Club.



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