Engineers Without Borders: Building a Global Community

Jul 20 2017 | By Jennifer Ernst Beaudry

For the students in Columbia’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), the club is more than just a chance to put their skills to use—it’s a way to connect with the whole reason they’re becoming engineers.

“One of the great things about Engineers Without Borders is that it’s one of the best ways on campus for engineers to actually practice the skills they’ve been using in class,” said copresident Wing-Sum Law ’18SEAS.

Law, a mechanical engineering major who has been a member of EWB’s Ghana project since her freshman year, has seen the group finish a 10-year project building source-separating latrines in Obodan, a farming village in the western part of the country. “Western aid has a history of failing when we’ve gone into developing nations. Engineers Without Borders has this model based on community partnership, which is really effective,” Law said.

EWB copresident Jamie Hall ’17SEAS, a mechanical engineering major involved in the Uganda project (the Columbia chapter also runs a project in Morocco), said the group is looking for a new project after completing a rainwater harvesting system. “We’ve had a long and intimate history with water on the Uganda team,” Hall explained. In 2011, Columbia EWB designed and installed a rainwater harvesting system, which collects and treats precipitation and supplies the Beacon of Hope Secondary School in Soroti with clean, potable water, helping reduce their dependence on the unreliable city water line. “When I visited the project in Soroti last summer, the system we installed was still in use.”

But while the projects are finished, both Hall and Law said their teams are in “constant communication” with their local partners to both monitor the existing projects and develop new goals and new work that will serve the communities.

“We know that what we do affects approximately 1,000 families—every decision we make has to be well thought out,” Hall said.

Law agreed. “Engineering has this reputation of being super-technical, and I came to school for that,” she said, “but at the end of the day, it’s designing for people.”