Engineering students help to improve quality of life in developing communities

Fourteen graduate students from the Engineering for Developing Communities program at CU-Boulder traveled abroad this past summer to gain field experience in community development.

The students partnered with nonprofit organizations, private companies and universities for 4- to 12-week practicum experiences in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia, Uganda, Nepal and China.

The Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities at CU-Boulder arranged the practicums, which included monitoring and evaluation of drinking water and sanitation systems, low-carbon approaches to affordable housing and cook stove emission testing.

Among the students who went abroad were Chalie Nevárez, Katie Spahr and Chance Steffey who helped to pilot a monitoring and evaluation system that uses smartphones to assess the sustainability of community-based drinking water and sanitation projects in Nicaragua.

The three students worked with El Porvenir, a nonprofit organization based in Denver that provides technical assistance and training for rural communities lacking access to government services, to build and manage their own drinking water and sanitation systems.

For seven weeks they helped train El Porvenir staff and local university students to use the smartphone system and supervised the rollout of a pilot evaluation in 44 rural communities.

“I learned that community development is not a linear problem and solution, and it’s not just about the technology,” said Nevárez.” There are many factors you have to consider such as politics, power, organization and economics.” he said. “The smartphones made the evaluation so much quicker; we uploaded a survey every 15 minutes and we got richer data with pictures of the projects.”