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Engineering students named “Emerging Leaders”

Two Northeastern University students were recently named “Emerging Leaders” by Engineers Without Borders–USA (EWB–USA) for building clean-water distribution systems for more than 1,000 villagers in Honduras and Uganda.

Ann Polaneczky and Matt Walsh were two of only nine collegiate or professional engineers in the 12,000-member nonprofit humanitarian organization to earn the distinction.

EWB–USA works on some 350 water, renewable energy and sanitation projects in more than 45 developing countries around the world. Northeastern’s student chapter of the organization, founded in 2005, has brought clean water to families in El Tecuán, Los Planes and El Chaguite, Honduras, and Bbanda, Uganda.

Northeastern’s group, which has more than 100 members, was named the North East region’s Premier Chapter of 2010 by EWB–USA for their technical preparedness and willingness to share resources with other chapters.

The young engineers say their work changes lives. Access to clean water has enabled villagers to grow gardens, increase the quality of the food supply and prevent water-borne illnesses.

“We’re improving quality of life for everyone,” says Polaneczky, a senior civil engineering major who served as president of Northeastern’s chapter from July 2009 to October 2010. “The more engineers who have a global perspective, the better the whole world will be, especially in developing countries.”

Over the last two years, Polaneczky twice led her team to El Chaguite to collect data and construct a 6,500-gallon water storage tank and new transmission lines. Today, there’s a tap at each house, the church and the school. In August, she and her teammates visited Bbanda, to drill two wells and complete a rainwater catchment system.

Walsh, the current president of the Northeastern chapter, and other members of the group met with community leaders in Bbanda in 2009 to discuss social and technical factors shaping the village’s water crisis. Later this month, he’ll travel to Honduras to select another village in which Northeastern students will build a new clean-water distribution system.

His team’s work is of utmost importance to the livelihoods of the villagers in Uganda.

“When we were in Bbanda, villagers from other parts of the region were asking when we were coming to their villages,” says Walsh, a junior civil engineering major. “It’s really changing lives.”

The experiential learning opportunity isn’t lost on Northeastern students, says faculty advisor Ferdi Hellweger, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

“This program provides students with a broad perspective on how to solve problems that aren’t possible to explore in the classroom,” he says. “These types of out-of-classroom educational and professional development experiences are really important.”

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