Published: Jan. 13, 2021

Emily Zuetell is a current student in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering.  She was the president of CU’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders and has been a member of the organization for over three years.

Emily and the CU EWB Nepal Team pose with the completed tapstand at the Balodaya Secondary School.
Emily Zuetell (second from right) and the CU EWB Nepal Team pose with the completed tapstand at the Balodaya Secondary School.

How did you first get involved with Engineers Without Borders? What drew you to that organization?
I joined Engineers Without Borders the first week of my freshman year. I had learned about EWB from the Dream Big documentary that came out when I was in high school and couldn’t wait to join a chapter as soon as I was in college. I was drawn to the organization because it was an opportunity to work with communities around the world to build infrastructure that improves their capacity to meet their basic human needs, even as an undergraduate student. It was exciting to apply the things I was learning in class to hands-on experiences in everything from CAD and hydraulics to drone surveying and construction management.

Can you tell us about a project you’ve worked on?  
The first project I worked on was a water distribution system in Kalinchowk, Nepal, building a water distribution system for a school. Kalinchowk is a rural community located in the mid-range mountains of the Dolakha region, north of Kathmandu. It was the epicenter of the 2015 earthquake which destroyed almost all homes and infrastructure.  Prior to this project, there was no water access at the school, which had serious implications for hygiene, the spread of illness, and school attendance. My team and I designed a water distribution system and tapstand over the semester, and I traveled to the community for eight weeks over the summer to construct the system and conduct workshops with students and the community on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) principles and menstrual hygiene management. My favorite memory was turning on the tap for the first time and calling to my teammates, “paani ayo!” which means ”there’s water!” in Nepali.

Emily (right) discusses concrete forming for tapstand construction.What has been the most impactful part of your experience with Engineers Without Borders?
The most impactful part of my experience with EWB has been recognizing the critical role that people play in how basic infrastructure and education can empower communities to meet their human needs. When I traveled to Nepal, I lived in the community and got to know our homestay family, community leaders, and students and teachers at the school. Although brief, the experience helped me better understand how to work with a community to define problems and construct solutions. EWB has taught me how to communicate across cultures and experiences. My experience in EWB also helped me recognize the need for coordinated engineering, political, and socioeconomic work to ensure the long-term sustainability of these projects, which has guided my plans for graduate study in interdisciplinary development engineering programs. 

Having the opportunity to work with and travel to a community outside the U.S. has been a cornerstone of Engineers Without Borders.  How are you keeping those connections strong during the current COVID-19 pandemic?
The mission of Engineers Without Borders is twofold, to build engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and to equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges. In the past, this has taken the form of student teams gaining hands-on global engineering experience and cultural exchange through traveling to our partner communities to implement critical infrastructure projects and connect with our in-country partners. 

A key component of EWB is longstanding relationships with our partner communities. We work in a community for a minimum of five years and partner closely with in-country NGOs that work yearround in our partner communities. These longstanding relationships have helped us continue our projects through the changing landscape of COVID-19 restrictions. This change has required that we strengthen our communication with our in-country partners as our teams rely on communicating designs and surveying needs to continue making progress on our projects. 

Three of our teams were able to complete remote implementation this semester through extraordinary perseverance, organization and communication. Furthermore, students in our chapter are continuing to gain cultural exchange experiences through video calls and culture and language lessons from our NGO partners. While we look forward to being able to travel again, the current restrictions have required us to strengthen our communication and resourcefulness with our partner communities and provides us with yet another tool to empower our partner communities in the future.

What advice do you have for a student looking to get involved in Engineers Without Borders?
CU Boulder has EWB teams working in Nepal, Rwanda, Guatemala and Puerto Rico, so you can find a team that works for you. You don’t need any experience or a specific major to join our teams. If you want to learn more about EWB and start working on virtual courses about the project process and principles of working on engineering projects abroad, you can sign up for a Volunteer Village account through EWB-USA to access dozens of e-learning resources. We are always looking for new students who are passionate about engineering, education, and service.

Attend our meetings and reach out to our teams to learn more. Meeting times and contact information can be found on the EWB website.

CU EWB representatives at the 2019 National EWB-USA Conference in Pittsburg, PA
CU EWB representatives at the 2019 National EWB-USA Conference in Pittsburgh.