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Young humanitarians win national award

Northeastern’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders has been exceptionally busy over the last 12 months, when water distribution projects in Honduras and Uganda have approached the most critical stages of design and implementation.

The student group’s hard work has certainly paid off: In February, the group received the 2014 Premier Chapter Award from its parent organization, EWB-USA. “The EWB-USA Northeastern University chapter continues as a stalwart among university-based EWB-USA chapters,” the parent organization wrote in a news release posted on its website. “The chapter’s dedication is also evidenced by its level of involvement with regional and national EWB-USA events.”

The high honor marked the first national award for Northeastern’s group, which was founded in 2005 and has since brought clean water to thousands of villagers in Honduras and Uganda. Since its inception, Northeastern’s chapter of EWB has also won three regional awards.

“It’s no small task we do but it is definitely rewarding,” said Kelly O’Connell, E’16, the group’s vice president of administration. “Not only are we learning and benefiting from this work, but we are also helping other people.”

In order to qualify for the award, the group had to fill out an application that asked for an update on current projects; an explanation for how the group keeps its members involved; and a rundown of the group’s work with EWB-USA. A focus of the group’s application was EWB Bootcamp!, a semiannual event hosted at Northeastern that introduces new members to the organization and connects chapters from around New England to share ideas.

Northeastern EWB comprises 60 members, all of whom work on two water distribution projects: one in Uganda and one in Honduras. The Honduras team has successfully completed four projects in different communities in the Yoro District and is working alongside a fifth community on the final phase of a project to help bring clean water to a village there. They hope to begin the final stages of implementation in December.

As a result of United States-ordered travel restrictions, a team of EWB alumni has been traveling to Honduras to implement the group’s designs.

“We go to another country and hopefully affect the lives of hundreds of people with our expertise,” said Brandon Hornak, E’17, the project director of the Honduras group. “It’s very rewarding.”

The Uganda project team has planned three working trips for the remainder of this year; the third one, in August, will culminate in the completion of five community tap stands. In the past five years the team has constructed and rehabilitated rainwater catch basin systems at schools in the village and drilled two deep wells fitted with hand-pumps, while the students in Boston designed the water distribution system the team is now implementing.

“It has been an aggressive year,” said Catherine McManus, E’16, the project design leader of the Uganda group.

Working in different countries through EWB, she noted, provides members with a cultural education outside of engineering, one that will continue to become more robust: Since Northeastern’s chapter of EWB is growing and the Honduras project is almost complete, the group is looking to begin a third water distribution project in Central or Latin America. “We are not jumping right into it,” O’Connell said. “We’ve been looking on and off for the past year and want a project that we can really work well with.”