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EWB Trip Recap

As mentioned in many of my other blogs I was going to be traveling with Engineers Without Borders to Ohto Abwao, Kenya  and now here’s the recap. Our trip was filled with many different experiences that truly made it a once in a lifetime opportunity. Driving to the village was interesting as we got to see a wide array of environments and living styles. The vast Rift Valley and baboons on the side of the highway were pretty cool. The roads themselves were intriguing to me as a future transportation engineer. Driving on the left side was new, but the lack of striping and stop signs was really interesting and the driving culture was unique, a first-come-first-serve approach as you had to be aggressive. Seeing the constructed tanks that I helped design put things into reality as most of my co-op work was preliminary stuff and I never saw much of it completed.


Providing someone with easier access to water might not sound like much too many people in our society as water is readily available, but until you understand someone’s life you see the importance. For many villagers using the foot pump to get water takes hours each week that could be used to tend crops, help children, and for women, attend school. For some people the work involved to get water from the borehole is too much and therefore many resorted to gathering water from the ponds and other dirty water sources. Many times I saw children getting water from these locations and I’d just sort of make a mental comment of “just a few more days and you won’t have to get water from there anymore.” The benefit of our system is that we will use the sun to help kill some of bacteria that is in the water via a removal roof on the tanks, which also allows easy access to clean the tanks when sediment accumulates in the bottom. Many of the villagers were concerned why the tanks had no roof as most of the concrete tanks in the area had roofs, but these systems allowed bacteria to grow inside, thus contaminating the water in the tanks. Engineers also understand the limits to which they can design for and we understood we couldn’t treat the hardness of their water, but the fact that we are making their water easier to access is a top priority. The true impact of our system won’t be clear for another few months as health assessments and other feedback will be completed.

Probably the single event that made the whole project hit home was the first night we arrived in Otho Abwao. As we were making our first walk up to the tanks along the trench an older gentleman walked up to me and shook my hand and simply said “thank you” in English. That simple phrase rarely has much meaning to most people in our society as it’s just a common saying with little real meaning, but this was probably one of the few times I felt the full grasp of a thank you. I feel I’m really in tune with the power we engineers have in society, but that act made me really understand the impact we have on people. Along the way we were joined by dozens of kids and more adults until we reached the tanks and looked over the village and towards Lake Victoria. This was another feel good moment as we got acquainted with the people whose lives we were changing for the better.

We were told we would be followed by kids all the time, but until you are surrounded by them watching your every move you don’t know what to expect. For me it was kind of like working with my four year-old niece, Taylor, except that these kids weren’t asking a million questions and grabbing all the tools and materials, but rather fascinated by our work. The trip had many stressing situations and simply working on your tasks and being surrounded by smiling children shows you that you can’t let one thing overcome you. We all knew that the water system would allowed them to have more time in school as they would be able to spend less time gathering water and the water would be a bit safer so they won’t get sick as much. And everyone loves seeing pictures of cute kids smiling.

100_0689_1Engineering is full of adapting to situations and this trip allowed everyone to be flexible because well, TIA (This Is Africa, our motto) and you can’t control everything so you have to just go with the flow. For me this facet is usually easier said than done as I prefer most things to be planned out with little hitches. But having to redesign the roof system, have the contractor back a few piping changes, and going shopping in Kisumu were the best opportunities I had at improving my engineering experience. As Andy would later say “trying learning that in a class room,” which continues to show people the true magnitude engineering has to our thought process.

The hardest decision we had to make and cope with was that we wouldn’t see the full completion of the project because of customs issues we had we our pump and a few solar panels. To see water being pumped from the borehole to tanks, then into the distribution network, and finally seeing villagers fill their jerry cans at the tap stands would mark a completion of the project. For many of us this represented a failure to complete a job and that doesn’t sit well with most people, engineers may be a bit more uneasy about it. For Andy and Neil, who have been involved since the beginning of EWB-UCIN, I think this might have been a bit harder on them. Professor Dan helped explain the situation and helped us refocus our personal feelings about leaving an unfinished project. By reiterating the fact that we can complete the stuff we have power over, we should feel that we completed the project and to let things we can’t control be just as they are. We all had total confidence in Dan completing things for us, but again it’s just an internal feeling that’s hard to write or talk about.

Although this project was real and our decisions have effects on everyone involved, it’s another learning opportunity we have in our education, but for us this opportunity is truly unique and one that everyone should experience. For us seniors it has allowed us to use all the work we have done on co-op and in the classroom to make an impact in the world, one small village at a time. For our freshman member, I can’t really speak on his experiences, but he got the opportunity to see how far engineering students progress in less than five years in regards to our professionalism and how we make decisions. I told him this was his first and he would get a lot more out of this experience than it might seem. I really enjoyed traveling and working with my friends which made things easier for all of us since everyone enjoys working with friends. When you have complicated and intense situations and decisions to make its more fun with people you’re comfortable with. Even though we did have some disagreements about stuff, we understood it’s from an engineering perspective, not personal.

It wasn’t all work and we did have a lot of fun. As I mentioned before, being around friends as great in that you can always joke around with them. Some things that happened can’t be talked about because, “What happens in Africa, stays in Africa,” but we had many laughs at the dinner table and on the porch. Everyone got picked on and everyone dished it back which helped us relax after a long day in the sun and heat. Dan is very interesting to be around and he really made things fun even though things weren’t always rosy. The plane and van rides were long, but we had some fun along the way.


The flights home were interesting, I got patted down in both Nairobi and London and Andy got it in Chicago. I was hoping not to 3 for 3 in Chicago, but I passed otherwise I was going to scream. Our problems in Chicago started in London as we got delayed on the runway for 30 minutes. This delay got us to Chicago at 4:30pm for a 5:10pm flight. A little tight even if you’re flying domestic, but we had to pass through customs, collect and recheck bags, and go through security. Liesbet is a Belgium citizen so she had to go through a different, slower customs line. Neil volunteered to stay back with her, which left the rest of us to sprinting to the gate. The American Airlines counter people didn’t think we had a chance and sent us to schedule a new flight. The next counter told us we could make it and checked our bags and sent us up to the gate. Chicago’s airport is annoying in that you basically have to go halfway across the airport to get anywhere. We passed through security at a line where there weren’t very many people, and this is where Andy’s moist toilette got him stopped for a few minutes. After he passed through we sprinted to gate H-1B about 400-500 ft from where we came from. At the counter, one guy wouldn’t let us on (the plane was still sitting there), but another co-worker let us on. Turns out the plane hadn’t been fueled up, so we had a few extra minutes. We were hoping Neil and Liesbet would make it in time but they didn’t. We got home about 8pm on Wednesday the 25th in Cincinnati where we were welcomed by 40 and rain compared to the 90 and dry sun. Right now it’s a matter of getting the sleep cycle back down before classes start on Monday.

Come back for more updates as we disucss the project as a group and do final tasks to closeout the implementation part of the project. For comments from the other members I traveled with please check out the EWB blog


EWB Otho Abwao Update

A lot has happened since I mentioned anything about my involvement with Engineers Without Borders and our project in Kenya. Construction on the ferrocement tanks started on January 26th which was about two weeks later than we had planned, but either way construction has started. It is really meaningful to me as its pretty much my first project that I’ve been involved with from design through completion. But, for my friends Andy, Neil, Emily, and Ely this is really bigger since they been working on this project from their Freshmen year or early second. Most of them have already been to the village a few years ago and now they know the individuals they visited are truly getting a project. A project that will reshape their lives and their children’s lives as they will now be able to have clean water readily available.

Well since construction has started that means our implementation trip is quickly approaching. We’re set to leave Cincy on March 14 and return March 25. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do before then. Aside from all the travel paperwork we’ve still got to wrap engineering items up. Our manual and bill of materials continue to be our big assignments as this will constitute the majority of the work we will do in Kenya. My role upon entering the village will be to install the roof, drainage pipes, and check everything over in relation to the tanks. It might not sound like a lot, but things can change quickly in Africa. I plan on just leading a hand where ever I can after completing my items. After we all get done with our individual system work the education to the villagers will begin. Although I’m not an expert in water education, being in an industrialized country I/we take almost everything for granted. We don’t have to constantly worry about the safety of our water and introducing people to cleaner water will be a challenge. Basic things such as cleaning the jerry can or letting the water flow for a few minutes to remove contaminants will be a new concept to the village.

But even though class projects are heating up around our departure time, I still see this project as something more meaningful than completing some for most of my classes. It is probably bad to say that, but this project is more meaningful to some than restoring a creek (although I do love nature) as that project is all conceptual and will liekly not happen. So working on an actual engineering project that will change hundreds of people’s lives as an undergrad truly shows the opportunities UC engineering students have. This project has also allowed all of us to use our co-op and class knowledge to help. So I can’t wait to finally go on a Spring Break trip (I’ve always pretty much worked on the farm every year), and I can’t wait to witness the beauty of Africa. Although we’ll be working all the time, I’d rather be doing something rather then laying around in the hot weather. Nothing like a nice relaxing work vacation (remember I’ve climbed mountains on my “vacations”) after a hard Winter quarter of work. Well I’ve got some EWB work to do and I can’t wait to spill the beans about the trip when we get back.


Mid-quarter updates

Well, its been awhile since anyone has posted and I’ve got a break here on a weekend morning. Christmas break wasn’t much of a break for me as I pretty much worked every day it seemed. I did manage to find some relaxing time in between hanging out and chasing my four year old niece around. I pretty much didn’t really care for getting any gifts aside from what I needed. All in all it was nice to spend more than a weekend with my family, but classes were just around the corner.

But before classes could start there was one important thing to do to close out Fall quarter. Go to Miami for the Orange Bowl and New Years! If anything it got me off of work a few days earlier and I would get to go to Florida for the first time. I teamed up with four of  my engineering friends and a medical student and we set out on the 18+ hour drive to sun, sand, and oranges. The drive was pretty fun as we had plenty of interesting conversations along the way. Miami sure beats Cincinnati in January as spending the days on the beach is a lot better than cranking the heat up and watching TV. Going to the Atlantic was also another first for me and I had my first encounter with a coconut. It was pretty fun to open the whole thing up, and having fresh coconut on the beach, well you just can’t top that.100_06081

Although the ‘Cats lost the game (in rather ugly fashion) it didn’t take away    from the trip’s appeal. To save money our group went camping since we are all outdoors individuals and it allowed for more interactions among our group. Plus, $15 a night compared to $90-150 a great math choice for engineers and it leaves more money for food.

After getting back from the sandy beaches, two weeks later I made a trip to the white………,snowy and icy Mt. Washington in Conway, NH to do some mountain and ice climbing. Ironically, 5 of the 6 Miami trip members also went along and a few more Mountaineering Club members. Compared to Miami it was freaking cold, negative temps for a high and whiteout conditions at times. So once again our group was in a van for over 15 hours and we still had more interesting conversations. But this time there was a different mood, at least for me, as mountain climbing in winter in one of the world’s worst places is a wake up. Let’s just said the drives were fun but, when game time came we were all in the zone as we have to watch out for everyone. That’s the thrill or excitement of climbing to me, freezing your butt off, but volunteering to do it for the experience. For me Mt. Washington also is a state highpoint that I need and this kind made this trip special and helped refocus myself. But as great climbers say, the mountain will always be there, so this places the importance on safety. Everyone that made it up made down, but we did have some instances. But thanks to quick reaction by us experienced hikers/climbers nothing got out of hand. We left about 5am from the shelter house and returned about 3:30pm after reaching the summit at a little before noon (we were the first group to summit, I think 19 others had turned back). By that time there was about 8 inches of fresh powder in the parking lot and the vehicles had to be dug out. I also enjoyed putting on the camouflage, although not hunting hurt, and finding others who also had cammo on.



One down, two to go

Well, I’m home with the family back in Indiana and its nice to be back home and not have to worry about class and everything else associated with academic stress. Instead, I get to go out hunting and watch some movies and get decent sleep totals.

It finally ended last Friday and I won’t miss it at all. This past quarter was probably one of the most annoying quarters I’ve had in a while. Its no that my class were hard, but that some seemed to lack a focus. Senior design was kind of wasted time as we seemed to do the same project 3 different times. As much as I like discussing transportation projects and what not, doing three assignments on Alternative C for the Hopple Street interchange got to be annoying. And Pavement Design class, well let’s just say its over and I’ll hopefully never have that Prof ever again. Most of the time it seemed as though it went from Monday afternoon to Friday afternoon way too quickly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but its somewhat nice to know what you did during the week.


There were some good and fun things that did occur. First off, we’re going to the Orange Bowl game and considering where UC football was when I was a freshman its really cool go to a BCS game. So I’ll get to spend my first New Years outside of Jasper, IN which is nice. Our EWB Kenya project is well laid out and they are starting many new projects in Africa. They have actually started construction on our water tanks this past week, which means I’ll be heading to Kenya in under three months. I also got to pick a “fun” class for the first time in my college career and I chose Rappelling. I see it as a way to help my mountaineering skills. We spent most of our time tying knots and rappelling off of a parking garage so it was pretty fun to be 40′-50′ dangling off the side of a building. What was really cool about the class is that us civilians were invited to Camp Atterbury in Indiana for a weekend training exercise. We got to do some rappelling, paint-balling, and gun shooting (without real ammo). It was really cool to be on a live military base and take part in some of their training exercises. Going to a military base really gives you a bigger sense of respect for our armed service members. I’m also excited in that I’ll get to do some mountain climbing in a few short weeks. Nothing like being on Mt Washington, NH in January. Its going to be cold, but tons of fun because I get to play with crampons and break in my new Raven Pro Ice Axe.

Pretty much my new focus going into the Winter quarter will be to spend enough time on my classes and organizational work and start a hardcore job searching task. Some will say I’m behind a bit, but I’ve got my ideal location and I know what I want to do. Otak is definitely at the top of my list and I’ve been in contact with them so that’s good. With the housing market in trouble the focus goes to infrastructure improves. Mostly roads and schools are focused on with federal funding. This definitely helps me because there’s going to be more money going into roads and transit which helps create construction jobs.


To Baltimore!

One thing that I haven’t touched on yet is the ability to go to professional conferences throughout the college experience. For me, the conferences I have gone to are for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). I went to my first national conference in my sophmore year when SWE had their yearly meeting in Kansas City. Just a few weeks ago, I came back from yet another SWE national conference. This one was in Baltimore. Here is a picture of me and my other SWE friends at the conference:


So the obvious here, is the ability to travel. Often, the university will help find ways to pay for travel by car/bus, hotel stay and conference regisration. This makes attendance much more affordable. It is really fun to experience a new city with so many great people around you.

However, the true value of these conferences are many fold. I tend to enjoy all the sessions that are offered. These session may discuss leadership, team building, career success, or something as simple as figuring out what you want to do when you graduate. You have the opportunity to meet professionals from all accross the world and network with potential employers. This provides many tools for students as they move throughout their educational career and beyond. 

Baltimore was great. One of the most fun things I learned is how to find little nuggets about yourself that will help define the type of career you need. The women at the seminar asked us simply: “Name 3 things you wanted to be when you grew up as a child.”

For her, these were 

1. Astronaut

2. Veterinarian

3. Ballerina

But she realized that she didn’t actually want to be any of these in reality. So what we can take from it is that she wanted to be a astronaut because they were on the forefront of discovery, a veternarian because of her compassion, and a ballerina because she loves attention. Today, she is an HR manager for a highly technical company. It is a fun exercise for you to try sometime. Of course there was more to the session, but this is a good start!

Hope you enjoyed thanksgiving!


Fall Quarter

I have been a student at this fine institution for almost 5 years now. And do you know what my favorite part of the whole experience is? FALL QUARTER! It’s the combination of new freshmen learning what college is about, football games, the gorgeous leaves that can be seen in the Midwest, and (of course) a new school year. There is just some aura that surrounds fall quarter and makes it my favorite.

This year it is excellent because it’s my last fall quarter! I am officially a senior and will be free of this place by this time next year. I will join the ranks of working engineers and finally put all of my knowledge to good use (other than taking tests).

I am a lucky senior. I have already accepted a full-time position at my co-op job (also my dream job). So I get to spend senior year focusing on classes and enjoying the college experience. I have no stress over my job after graduation and that is amazing! I am certainly not alone in this confidence. But there are definitely more seniors looking for a job than those who already have one.


I’m back

I finally made back into the Nati on Friday after being home for two weeks in Indiana. CO-OP went very well this year again. I had some fun and interesting experiences this summer while in Washington state. The weather wasn’t as good as it was last year, but it was better than what the Midwest had all summer. The big item of my CO-OP of course was the forest projects and when I left they were submitting fine reports to the DNR of our findings and suggestions. From my previous posts you can tell the project was very interesting in many degrees, but what doesn’t kill you (CSF tried) makes you stronger.

My parents came out for vacation and bring me home the first week of September. It was nice, I took them up to Mt Rainier, although I wasn’t climbing this year (unforuntately). We spent 3 days up there and even got some snow the first day. I wished the weather would have been a bit warmer (it was mid to upper 40s) and clearer, but the Mountain rules the weather. I did manage to hike up to about 7,000ft with a broken toe. It was nice to explore the park instead of going to the top, the surrounding forests had plenty to see. The mountain seemed to be a bit bigger this year than last year, which was weird. The snow levels were out of the normal, on my hike snow was in places that were bare last year. The view was still the same, amazing. My dad looked up at the top and said “you climbed all the way up there?” It was only 9,000ft up and then down.

After returning from the Mountain we spent a few days in Seattle seeing things we didn’t see last year. Boeing’s Museum of Flight was pretty cool. The zoo, well Cincinnati’s zoo definitely dominated Seattle’s. The plane rides home were nice, we got to sit in the same row next to each other.

While at home for a few days I pretty much went fishing everyday (I need food for college), went dove hunting and actually got one (first time dove hunting in about eight years), and hung out with the dog at home. I managed to do some engineering recruiting at my high school to get younger students interested in engineering. I also spent a few days working on the farm, and then fishing later. With the wind storm last week my grandpa, uncle, and myself spent about eight hours picking up sticks and cleaning up a pretty big oak tree that fell over.

Its nice to return to campus and get the new year started. I’m excited about finally being a Senior, but at the same time the light at the end of the tunnel is somewhat beginning to come into view. Getting back also means my to do list is getting bigger. But its nice to have a list of things to keep busy with. Most of my tasks are related to EA right now and I’m excited about the new EA year. An addition to my coming back means I get to see my friends for the first time in six months. With many of us all across the country and world we didn’t get to talk much except for emails and Facebook items. It’ll be interesting to see how all of us have changed over our CO-OP time.

I can add an EWB update as well. The group I’m in is finishing up our operations manual and it looks like we’ll be heading over during Christmas break to implement the system. So although things didn’t quite go as planned of the summer, its nice to have a new focus. I’m also interested in meeting face-to-face for meetings instead of my Skpye or email. A lot more gets done face-to-face than face-to-email.

Well, back to the to do list.


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