San Luis Obispo: Student Engineers Without Borders Chapter Brings Sustainable and Innovative Change to Communities Near and Far
According to the 2011 US News & World Report, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo not only holds the #1 position for Top Public Schools in the West, but is also considered one of the top five institutions for undergraduate engineering programs.* At an institution with such accolades, it is no wonder the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo chapter of Engineers Without Borders, USA (EWB-Cal Poly) has recently been named the National Premier Student Chapter, the highest national recognition a chapter can receive. With almost 200 members, this group is bringing sustainable and innovative change to communities both locally and abroad.
In the summer of 2011, students from EWB-Cal Poly traveled to the foothills of the Himalayas where they made their second visit to a tiny community of subsistence farmers in Sainji, India. They were there to gather information on the community's needs in preparation for a latrine they would come back a year later to build. However, days before their return, they noticed villagers de-kernelling corn by hand. Corn is the community's major cash crop and oftentimes children are asked to stay home from school to ensure a sufficient supply. Taking this and the physical detriments of manually de-kernelling corn into account, the students devised a tool that would make this task less time consuming and ease stress on finger joints. Through participatory design (working side by side with those who will use a product), the students and villagers designed an ergonomic corn de-kerneler made of local, wild bamboo and nine nails with a production cost of less than ten cents.
Back in San Luis Obispo, EWB-Cal Poly is working on California's first septic tank reuse initiative. A new wastewater treatment plant is being established in Los Osos and residents have been faced with the issue of what to do with their septic tanks. In response, EWB-Cal Poly has partnered with SLO Green Build and San Luis Obispo County to explore how they can turn the discarded system into a functional means of groundwater recharge, runoff reduction, water conservation, and water quality preservation. Their research will ideally culminate in a homeowner's manual that lays out potential options for the unused septic tanks considering soil type, terrain and local regulations. They hope this project will serve as a pilot program for the rest of the state.
*where a doctorate degree is not offered
One year after the devastation that came from the massive earthquake off the coast of Sendai, 15 CSU Channel Islands students enrolled in Science and Technology in Japan traveled to Japan to volunteer in the rebuilding efforts during their spring break.
Some of the first words of greeting that Earth Sciences Professor Judy King receives from Biogeography students are: "Have you seen the garden today?"; "Did you notice how much the Sycamore has grown?"; "Those Monkey Flowers are blooming like crazy!" With funding from an ECO LED grant made possible by Edison International, 26 students joined forces to plan a garden, learn the scientific and common names of their plants, dig, add amendment, dig some more, learn to plant carefully, spread wood chips, build a path, and water diligently.
Students in Dr. Steve Blumenshine's aquatic ecology course work with a variety of community partners on issues of water quality and habitat restoration, including fish sampling, water testing, river restoration efforts and teaching aquatic ecology modules in local classrooms.
In Dr. Matthew Johnson's Upland Habitat Ecology course, students learn about the process of research by being exposed to real issues impacting their community and sharing their findings and recommendations with local planners and city officials.
Volunteer work aboard historic vessels in the San Francisco Bay is a tradition at California State University Maritime Academy. Robbie Jackson, instructor of Marine Engineering Technology, saw a need to spread the word among campus cadets to get involved by offering a Historic Ship Preservation service-learning course.
The students of Engineers Without Borders USA-Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (EWB-Cal Poly) are creating change domestically and abroad. In the summer of 2011, students worked with villagers in Sainji, India to create an economical and user-friendly corn de-kerneler to help ease the physical stress of their manual method.