Fall 2021 Newsletter

Happy winter break from EWB-USA UMN! We’ve kept busy this semester, with a lot of exciting updates in our projects. The Guatemala program is moving full-steam ahead with remote implementation in Chirijuyu (coordinating closely with in-country partners) and is continuing to plan for assessment in Chi Chokon – aiming to travel in May 2023. The Ethiopia program hit some roadblocks due to ongoing conflict in Ethiopia, and is developing contingency plans, including options of remote work or a new partner community. Victoria Garden subgroups have evaluated alternatives for the planned components of the project, and are now moving into the design phase. Our Local Collaboration with EWB-USA MN Professional Chapter wrapped up its first project with Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, and is working with the Division of Indian Work. 

We also had several successful events this semester, including our semesterly camping trip, a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate implementation at the Peace Garden this past summer, our Fall Donor Update, and of course “EWBonding” events to just hang out! Our project in the Peace Garden was supported by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), and was recently featured in the ASABE Resource Magazine: check out the article here.

Keep reading for updates from our project and marketing teams and to meet some of our members and mentors!

Team Updates

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Team Updates

Project Updates

Ethiopia - Filakit and Toke

 The Ethiopia team started out the year preparing assessment plans for the new project in Toke, Ethiopia. The plan was to travel in May to Ethiopia to collect assessment data and meet the community. However, the past two months the political conflict in Ethiopia escalated and the travel ban was put back into place by the US government. The community in Toke is safe from the conflict, however, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the conflict and events are moving quickly in Ethiopia. Following the escalation of the conflict and the travel ban, our team had to cancel the in-person assessment trip and look into remote options. Many discussions and meetings between the project team, mentors, community partners, and a potential contractor in Ethiopia have kept our students busy the past couple of weeks. Previous challenges related to remote work due to Covid-19 has led the team to prepare multiple contingency plans to either move forward with the project in Toke or to find a new community in a different country. In the meantime, our community partners in Toke submitted their community application to EWB-USA and we are waiting for their response to help us decide how to move forward with the project. The team expects to have a decision from EWB-USA and as a chapter by the end of winter break, so that we can get back to work next semester. Even though there is a lot of uncertainty, the Ethiopia project team has taken time to reflect on the value of our projects to the international communities we partner with, as well as learn about Ethiopian history through our NGO partners. 
Learn more

Guatemala - Chirijuyu

The Chirijuyu project has transitioned into the second phase of remote implementation in order to more efficiently advance construction. The Guatemala Country Office is taking on a greater role to oversee construction efforts and field engineer any issues as they come up. In-country partners have been balancing a significant workload throughout the remote implementation of the Chirijuyu project, leading to delays from the originally expected timeline. Now that travel restrictions allow travel to Guatemala, a small team of four students and three mentors will travel from January 5-15th to coordinate outstanding tasks and focus exclusively on moving the project forward. The team will also strengthen relations with community members, NGO partner Long Way Home, and the Guatemala Country Office to the benefit of future projects in the region.

Guatemala - Chi Chokon

The Guatemala team has been planning for remote and in-person May assessment. Using the information that we have gathered from speaking with the community in Chi Chokon, the team has been able to identify key parts of the existing water distribution system that need improvement. The three components of the system that the team has been focusing on are the tanks, pipelines, sources of water. During the semester, students have been looking at ways to gather information that can be used in the future to make decisions about these components. The students have broken down their strategies into data that can be collected remotely with the help of our in-country partners, as well as data that should be collected during an in person visit that we are planning this May. In preparation for alternative design analysis next semester, the team has brainstormed ways in which the design components can be grouped in an efficient way.  Learn more

Victoria Garden

The Victoria Garden team has been busy at work collecting assessment data and coming up with alternative analysis for the different project deliverables. Over the semester, the team visited the Victoria Garden in St. Paul, and collected soil samples and measurements of the key components of the garden, even getting some drone shots with one of our mentors Laura! Following the assessment trip, the students started coming up with different alternatives to their problem statements, meeting biweekly with the gardeners to ask questions and discuss different solutions. On December 8th, the team presented all the final alternative analysis to the gardeners and received feedback about their favorite ideas and CAD drawings. Getting ready for next semester, the students will start making designs and preparing implementation plans for the end of the semester and beginning of summer.  Learn more

Local Collab

The Local Collab team is continuing its goal of providing engineering solutions for organizations in the Twin Cities through a collaborative partnership between the UMN and Minnesota Professional chapters of EWB. Many new members joined the team this semester on both the student and professional sides as we closed out our first project with Beacon Interfaith and began a new project with Division of Indian Work.

Beacon Interfaith Housing Collective

We are excited to announce the completion of Local Collab’s first project! Beacon Interfaith is an organization that aims to create and provide homes to advance equitable housing in the Twin Cities. Our final deliverables for Beacon included energy assessments and tax recommendations for twelve properties in Minneapolis and St. Paul. We’re grateful to all the volunteers who made this first project possible, and would like to extend a special shout-out to EnerChange for providing technical guidance on the energy audit process. We can’t wait to see what our partnership with Beacon has in store for the future! Learn more

Division of Indian Work

Division of Indian Work (DIW) aims to support urban Indigenous communities with education, healing approaches, and leadership development by creating safe and healthy community environments. Over the summer we discussed potential projects with DIW related to site improvements for their Lake Street headquarters. After assembling a team and getting the proper paperwork organized, our Work Plan was approved, and we were able to get the ball rolling. Preliminary research is underway in the areas of solar, compost, and rainwater catchment, and our first official site visit was completed in early December. Learn more

Marketing Updates

Marketing Team

Lots of awesome progress from the Fundraising Team this semester. Top moment: Give To The Max Day! We surpassed our goal by raising $5,550 so a big shout out to everyone who shared about and donated to our crowdfunding page and an especially big thanks to our generous match!! The funds will be well put to use on the upcoming assessment and design stages of our projects. The Fundraising Team is wrapping up the semester by understanding our budget for the next two years and applying for grants to support it as the next semester comes around. 

On the Creative Team’s side, we had an awesome time putting together the Paint Within Borders Event this last weekend. Members came in to paint a canvas mural for our space in the Civil Engineering Building and even made some creative art of their own with spare canvas!

Community Context Committee (CCC)

A new initiative we have started this year is the Community Context Committee (CCC). This is a subcommittee of our chapter dedicated to improving our projects and interactions through deeper understanding of the historical, political, and social contexts of the countries and communities EWB partners with. The CCC presents information to general project meetings and provides space for discussion and reflection. Our main project for next semester is building community profiles for our partner communities which include information about their region’s history, politics, government, language, and social norms. This comprehensive understanding of our projects’ contexts is important to consider alongside our technical data because we can build stronger projects through stronger project relationships. 

Our portion of the newsletter will typically present a topic of the month that students discussed in project meetings. This month we are discussing “voluntourism”, or volunteer tourism, a form of tourism in which visitors are offered volunteer opportunities as a trip activity or when the intended purpose of the trip is to volunteer abroad. This can occur between neighborhoods in the Twin Cities or between countries across the world. This type of volunteering is complex because it has the potential to make the communities being served feel observed or deprioritized. While it may have some positive effects, exploring the extent to which the work is for the community versus for the visitor is important to understanding how our mindsets can impact our interactions subconsciously. Voluntourism has the potential to perpetuate white saviorism, the action of helping based on the idea that those being served are inferior, typically enacted by white people from Western countries in communities in South America and Africa. The work EWB does has the potential to be viewed as voluntourism and white saviorism depending on how projects are approached. 

Questions we are considering include: In what ways might EWB be considered voluntourism? What are some ways EWB perpetuates and challenges white saviorism? Can EWB’s role be changed to better serve partner communities?

Below are sources for further reading if you are interested. Additionally, ideas and feedback are always welcome so please tell us about any professional connections, discussion topic ideas, or anything else on our interest form

Further Reading: “Voluntourism” by EWB Santa Clara University, “Applying a transformative learning framework to volunteer tourism” by Alexandra Coghlan & Margaret Gooch, and “They really love me!: Intimacy in Volunteer Tourism” by Mary Conran

Upcoming Events

Spring Reception – April 23rd, 5:30pm – 8:30pm

Valentine’s Day Chapter Event – February 12th, Time TBD

Member Highlights

Student Highlight

Alex Hawkins

Alex is the student lead for the Division of Indian Work (DIW) project of our local collaboration with the Twin Cities professional chapter of Engineers Without Borders. He worked with DIW for several months before the official project start, helping identify scope, organize resources, and facilitate communication between DIW & the professional chapter leadership. Alex joined the EWB-UMN’s Ethiopia Program just last year and worked on UFGA partnership, helping design and construct the new greenhouse in the Peace Garden. He’s currently working with students and professionals in the Local Collaboration to advance research on solar, compost, and rainwater catchment projects at DIW. Overall, Alex has played a major role in getting the project off the ground. Go Alex!

Mentor Highlight

Chris Ellis

Alex is the student lead for the Division of Indian Chris has degrees in electrical and civil engineering with a focus on water resource engineering. He spent his professional career working at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory before semi-retiring in 2017. Shortly after retirement he started mentoring EWB-UMN’s Guatemala Program and started mentoring the Ethiopia Program soon after that. In addition to helping students out with any water-related questions, Chris has been a great help with construction related projects as well. He has rehabbed 3 houses in his free time and has been able to offer his construction experience during design, and during the EWB-UMN implementation trip to Parajax in 2019. Chris thoroughly enjoys spending time with students working on projects, and we immensely appreciate all that he has done for both our students and our international programs!

Alumni Highlight

Allan Ouyang

Allan Ouyang is a full time actuary at Travelers. He was also the Vice President of our chapter in 2018 and was a subgroup lead in the Ethiopia program. One of Allan’s biggest takeaways from EWB was learning that there aren’t always textbook solutions to challenges. Sometimes the best course of action is taking a step back and developing novel solutions. Allan believes that EWB was the most rewarding experience in his undergraduate education because it was a great way to make an impact on people who were in need of infrastructure development, learn more about communities outside of his own, and the most tangible way of seeing his work play out from the classroom to the world.

Thank you!

Donor Highlight

Dr. Steven Savitt and Dr. Gloria Kumagai

This pair has been supporting us since our chapter first started over a dozen years ago! Dr. Savitt received his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota and is a member of the CSE Alumni Society Board supporting not only us but also the University! As a retired engineer, Dr. Savitt appreciates the EWB is able to adapt and move forward with whatever is on hand. Dr. Kumagai is also an alumnus of the University of Minnesota with a PhD in educational administration and now teaches at Walden University and has a strong focus in educational leadership and cultural proficiency in education! We are grateful for their continued support of our work!