January 04, 2010

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By Kathryn Kopchik

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Four Bucknell University students will travel to Suriname, South America, during January to begin designing an engineered system to treat and distribute safe drinking water throughout a rainforest village of 400 residents.

"The village of Tumaipa has no running water and no electricity. It is in a remote region of the country where safe and adequate water is not always available," said Kevin Gilmore, visiting assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Bucknell.

Senior civil engineering majors Alesandra Agresti, Jonathan Campbell-Copp, Scott Teagarden and John Trimmer will travel with Gilmore and Mike Toole, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, to the village to investigate water sources, test water quality and perform surveying. The remote location necessitates a 10-day trip, from Jan. 5 to 15, although only five days will be spent in the village.

Prep work for spring design
"We'll also meet the residents, learn about their society and culture, observe how they use water in their daily lives, and gather other information that will be useful as the students design the water system during the spring semester," said Gilmore.

The team's contact in Suriname is Laura Roberts, who graduated from Bucknell in 2007 with a degree in mechanical engineering. "Laura approached the College of Engineering with this opportunity for a senior engineering design project," said Gilmore.

"The students have spent the fall semester gathering information and learning about the village from Laura, when phone calls allow. The trip in January will take the project to the next level of detail and will allow them to proceed into the design phase during the spring semester.

"Some villages in this region have running water, but systems are plagued by broken pumps, intermittent supply or lack of funding for maintenance. By finding a truly sustainable solution to this community's water needs, these students will be directly contributing to the health and quality of life of the people in Tumaipa," he said.

The students are also pursuing project funding options so that the system can ultimately be constructed. Those interested in donating to the project can contact Gilmore at kevin.gilmore@bucknell.edu or 570-577-1615.

Student perspectives
The Bucknell students on the project are keen to apply their civil engineering expertise to a real-world situation, especially one with a global focus.

"I was interested in working on a project that allowed me to help other people with what I have learned at Bucknell," said Agresti, who would like to pursue a career in the water treatment industry. "This project will allow me to learn about another culture, while expanding upon engineering principles.

"I am extremely attracted to traveling and learning about other cultures. Having the chance to travel to Suriname and meet the villagers will be an amazing experience. I am extremely fortunate and lucky to have the chance to attend Bucknell and I want to take what I have learned and use it to better society," she said.

Jon Campbell-Copp considers this project a quick snapshot of a possible career in environmental engineering or consulting abroad. "It's motivating to be part of a project that significantly improves the quality of a person's life. We have been so fortunate to be able to be in such great contact with Laura Roberts, and to really get a feel for the village.

"The trip will be incredibly valuable in terms of collecting data and siting out possible designs, but most beneficial will be the perspective that we will likely gain from being with the people of Tumaipa. I feel this interaction will push us next semester to produce the best design for the project," he said.

John Trimmer, who has twice participated in the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua, said, "Those trips are actually what got me thinking about these broad, global issues of poverty, justice and equality, and they pushed me to ask myself, 'What can I do that might make the world a little bit better?'

"We have the chance to serve others and to make a difference, and, in the process, we also have the opportunity to learn from the people in Suriname. In the end, projects like this one seem to become less about us giving something to them and more about working together to enrich the lives of everyone involved," he said.

Contact: Division of Communications