Engineering senior design projects often help chart a student’s career, and sometimes they change the lives of people thousands of miles away.
Seniors from Colorado State University’s Rams Without Borders are using their design project to help more than 100 families in El Salvador gain access to clean water resources.
Students from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Rams Without Borders, the CSU student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, are designing the well, pump, transmission line, tank, and gravity-fed distribution system to supply the community of Las Tablas, El Salvador, with reliable, clean drinking water.
Building on previous efforts in La Criba
About 45 minutes away from Las Tablas lies the town of La Criba, where CSU faculty, students, and staff have worked since 2010 on a similar project. After the success of the La Criba project, leaders in Las Tablas reached out to the Japanese embassy in San Salvador to investigate the possibility of assistance in building their own water supply system.
As with the La Criba project, the embassy provided philanthropic support to Las Tablas on the condition that engineers were consulted. Rams Without Borders and the team stepped in to help, working with faculty members Chris Thornton, Ryan Bailey, and Tom Sale throughout the project.
Thornton, director of senior design for the department, said that while the basic engineering and science of the La Criba and Las Tablas projects are similar, the differences in terrain and local challenges make them unique. He emphasized that the projects are as much about communications and culture as they are about engineering.
Senior design project members:
- Ammar Al Kiyumi (Civil Engineering)
- Kayla Bergeron (Environmental Engineering)
- Lia Clark (Environmental Engineering)
- Cristian Mendez (Civil Engineering)
- Carly McGowan (Ecological Engineering)
- Rachel O’Brien (Ecological Engineering)
- Nicolette Peerman (Civil Engineering)
“At this level of development for the seniors, those cultural and communication soft skills are probably the most important,” said Thornton. “We’ve taught them statics, physics, and math. Now students need to use that knowledge in a way that best communicates what they are able to do, and what the people or clients need.”
Surveying the local community firsthand
Students and faculty from CSU and Rams Without Borders traveled to El Salvador over spring break in March, visiting both Las Tablas and La Criba. In La Criba, they helped the community install solar panels and assess that project, before continuing to Las Tablas to work with other faculty, students, and professionals in the field.
Prior to the trip, team lead Cristian Mendez reached out to engineering and hydrology faculty from the Santa Ana National University of El Salvador and Salvadoran researchers to study the feasibility of the project. Through that effort, Santa Ana students and faculty helped take water samples and measurements around Las Tablas.
The team also spent time surveying the region and engaging with the local community in Las Tablas. Lia Clark, senior design team member and former Rams Without Borders president, said that interacting with the community and gauging their morale for the project was an important lesson learned from La Criba.
“Part of the trip was to establish community connections, because many international development projects struggle in that respect,” said Clark. “One of the main reasons La Criba was so successful was that the entire community was invested in the project.”
E-Days and the project’s future
The final design for Las Tablas will be presented at the E-Days Senior Design Showcase, April 19 in the Lory Student Center. Students from Rams Without Borders will be available to discuss the project and its expected impact on the community.
In coming years, Rams Without Borders will continue to work with Las Tablas and collaborate with Santa Ana students and faculty, as well as professionals in the field and here at CSU. Rams Without Borders is currently raising funds through Ramfunder to help Las Tablas implement the design, and students and faculty will continue to optimize the project to best fit the community’s needs.
For Thornton, the value of the project is immeasurable. He added that every project students work on in their careers will require being in the field, and communication and cultural skills are vital to success.
“You can read something in a book about how to design or solve equations. But walking up and down the slopes and seeing where the houses are, and what the current situation is – that’s invaluable.”