Carnegie Mellon University
August 25, 2016

Alumni Improving Water Infrastructure Across the Globe with EWB

Alumni Improving Water Infrastructure Across the Globe with EWB

Sumon Chatterjee pictured centerSumon Chatterjee pictured center

More than 660 million people lack access to clean water, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF—that’s equal to about one in 10 people on Earth, or twice the total population of the United States.

The need for clean water access is so necessary, and the lack is so great, that in 2015 the World Economic Forum rated water crises as the greatest risk currently facing the world in terms of potential impact. One organization that is working to mitigate the water crisis is Engineers Without Borders (EWB), which connects professional engineers with communities around the world that have infrastructure issues, including a lack of access to clean water.

Two CEE alumni who have taken on leadership roles with EWB each recently went on trips, one in the U.S. and the other across the world, through the nonprofit to work on improving water access.

Delivering Water in Rural Cameroon

Aileen Craig (BS ’12, MS ’13) first heard about EWB as a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon and was immediately interested in the organization.

“Part of my reason for going into engineering was to directly help people with water and drinking water,” she says, so the CMU chapter of the organization seemed like a perfect fit. She worked as the lead for the chapter’s projects in Pittsburgh her sophomore and junior years, and after graduation joined the Washington, D.C. professional chapter of EWB.

In March, Craig went with other members of the D.C. chapter to a small, rural community called Mbokop in northwest Cameroon.

The community needs access to clean drinking water, so Craig and the other people on her team have been building a gravity-based water system using a freshwater spring located about a mile away from a settlement within Mbokop, called Mangi. The water system was about half finished at the end of their trip; in the meantime, she’s still staying engaged with the project.

In May, she spoke about the Mbokop community at the World Environmental and Water Resources Congress, a conference hosted by the Environmental Water Resource Institute, as part of a panel about international development. Also, Craig, who works an environmental engineer at CDM Smith in Fairfax, Virginia, took over as the co-lead for the Cameroon project for EWB’s D.C. chapter in July.

Water Quality in South Dakota

Sumon Chatterjee (MS ’14), who is the vice president of EWB’s Northern Virginia professional chapter, also recently went on a service trip, though his was a little closer to home.

A team from his EWB chapter worked on a domestic project organized through Community Engineering Corps, a partnership between EWB, ASCE, and American Water Works Association.

Chatterjee traveled to Cedar Gulch, South Dakota, in May to help 30 residents whose drinking water does not meet EPA standards for gross alpha and combined radium. He and the rest of the project’s design team met with the community and came up with several different possible water-treatment options, then turned in a final proposal for the community to Community Engineering Corps in July.

His team also mentored engineering students at the South Dakota State University in the fall semester of 2015, holding biweekly conference calls and guiding them on their capstone design project.

Preparing for Leadership

Both Craig and Chatterjee credit their time at CMU with giving them the technical knowledge they needed to work on these projects.

“I loved all of my professors at CMU; everyone was so supportive,” Craig says.

She cites her undergraduate fluid mechanics class with Professor Kelvin Gregory, her graduate class on wastewater treatment with Professor Jeanne VanBriesen, and her classes with Professor Greg LowryIntroduction to Environmental Engineering during undergrad, and Fate, Transport, and Physicochemical Processes of Organic Contaminants in Aqua Systems during her graduate work — as particularly influential.

Chatterjee, who works as an environmental engineer at AECOM, says that in addition to his graduate classes in water treatment, “Dr. David Nakles was an excellent mentor who helped me in my professional development with skills like troubleshooting, technical writing, and problem solving. Also, Department Head Dave Dzombak has always encouraged me to be actively involved with professional organizations. I am excited to use this engineering experience to give back to the community.”

For current CMU students, Craig recommends the student chapter of EWB as a great way to get experience before entering the workforce. “You get much more hands-on experience than you would otherwise as an undergrad,” she says.