Into Africa: Students Tackle Water Projects in Ethiopia, Kenya
Children draw drinking water from Lake Victoria, where livestock also go to drink.
Professor Benito Mariñas has broadened the scope of his popular environmental lab course to include student design projects related to water treatment in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to ongoing work in Mexico, Mariñas added class projects in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Three student teams traveled to their designated project sites this spring to gather information and water samples and collaborate with college students at universities local to the various projects.
"The places that really need this, where most people are dying because of lack of access to clean water and lack of access to sanitation, are in sub-Saharan Africa," said Mariñas, the Ivan Racheff Professor of Environmental Engineering.
CEE student Abdul Hassaballah collects a sample from a drinking water source near Bondo, Kenya.
Mariñas’ course teaches laboratory methods to senior undergraduates through real-world design projects in an international setting. Mariñas collaborates with local universities—the Universidad de Las Americas–Puebla (UDLAP) in Mexico; Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia; and the University of Nairobi in Kenya. The local universities help identify projects, provide laboratory space, and offer critical site-specific technical, socio-economic and cultural information. Students work in teams to address real-world problems of water purification, collaborating with the students at the local universities. The projects are addressed by multiple classes in stages; the African projects are just now beginning, while the Mexico project is more advanced.
All Illinois team members are invited to participate in one trip to a project site, each one-week long and provided at no cost to students, thanks to sponsorship by CEE at Illinois, the College of Engineering’s International Programs in Engineering office, and the National Science Foundation-sponsored Center of Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems (WaterCAMPWS). The trips enable joint design sessions with college students from the collaborating international universities and field trips to target communities.
CEE student Dana Al-Qadi surveys rural women about their water needs and priorities.
Bringing students to Africa poses greater challenges than travel to Mexico, but Mariñas sees educational value in exposing students to an area that presents one of the world’s most pressing water-related engineering challenges.
Students today have a strong desire to work internationally and use their engineering degrees to make a real difference in the world, Mariñas said.
Matt Sokolowski (left, green t-shirt), a CEE student, and partner student Patricio Roa Garduno from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology talk to children at a Kenyan primary school.