Student group gets $50,000 boost

Engineers Without Borders will use the money for two international projects and a geo-wiki.
March 22, 2009

A $50,000 funding boost to the University of Minnesota’s Engineers Without Borders student chapter brings a rural Ugandan village a little closer to getting a permanent water source. The group will use part of the funding on the solar-powered groundwater pump it plans to install this summer.
Awarded by the University’s Institute on the Environment and its Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment , institute spokesman Todd Reubold said it’s funded mainly by revenue from an annual environmental conference and money from a discretionary Institute on the Environment director’s fund.
EWB president Guillermo Alfonzo said after Jon Foley , the institute’s director, spoke at an event they had last fall, he became interested in supporting the work. The institute hopes to provide annual funding for the group, contingent on project assessments, Reubold said.
Alfonzo said the award will likely amount to about half the funds they raise this year and $10,000 of it is contingent on whether EWB can raise matching funds, which he said they expect to do.
The group gets funding from a variety of sources in and out of the University, including individual donors and businesses, Alfonzo said. This year its student service fee allocation saw a big jump from $3,000 to $25,000. The group will use that money for meetings, speakers, fundraising, outreach and other events and going to conferences, he said.
About $10,000 of the award will go toward the solar-powered groundwater pump in Uganda, civil engineering senior and project leader Brian Bell said. Including this award, the group has raised almost half of the $70,000 project cost, he said.
The project is the second phase of the group’s work in Uganda. Last summer, six students installed composting toilets and a rainwater collection system to serve Hope Integrated Academy , a secondary and vocational school.
The rainwater system supplies the secondary school student population of about 130, Bell said, but the groundwater pump will be a permanent water source for the entire academy, supplying about 8,000 liters daily.
Some of the funding will go toward a project right here at the University. The project is a “geo-wiki” that would serve as a sort of map-based information bank that other EWB chapters and organizations could use to view and contribute project pictures, videos and other information.
It would be a spatial way for groups to track each other’s projects and share information and experiences, Alfonzo said.
Mechanical engineering senior Nick Haupt is leading the geo-wiki project. He said although the group had been talking about something like this since last year, its $20,000 portion of the award will actually get the project going.
Most of the money will go toward hiring some students to develop the website and a way to feed in information from an existing project database. Haupt said they hope to have a working site up by fall.
The final $15,000 will go toward setting up a biogas digester in Haiti . It would treat human waste to make it usable as fertilizer and create methane gas in the process, which Bell said could be used as cooking fuel. The digester is one aspect of the three-part indoor sanitation project EWB plans to implement in Haiti next January, said Bell, who formerly led this project.

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