UD's Engineers Without Borders built a bridge over the Rio Vibora in Guatemala.

Bridge-tastic

UD Engineers Without Borders team builds bridge in Guatemala

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10:21 a.m., Jan. 27, 2012--Six University of Delaware students are wrapping up a memorable Winter Session journey this week. The students, who return to campus on Sunday, have spent the last month constructing a concrete bridge over the Rio Vibora in San Marcos, Guatemala.

The UD team is part of the University’s Engineers Without Borders student chapter (UD-EWB). The bridge will connect the village of San Jose Petacalapa with bordering farmland separated by a river.

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“The river becomes quite deep during the rainy season, making it difficult for villagers to access their crops,” explained Allen Jayne, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and the project’s faculty technical adviser. In recognition of EWB's involvement, the villagers colloquially renamed the Rio Vibora as the Delaware River.

Jayne provided guidance for structural design and drawing preparation associated with the bridge, while UD undergraduate and graduate students provided eager engineering minds, muscle and logistical support to coordinate their efforts with EWB’s national organization, construction personnel and community representatives in Guatemala.

Initiated in 2009, it is the first known bridge project undertaken solely by an EWB student chapter to be approved by EWB’s national organization. Ben Berwick, a UD graduate student studying structural engineering, blogged about the group’s adventure.

“We have had money issues, lack of materials, equipment problems and soil issues for one of the foundations,” Berwick wrote in one post. “I'm proud to say that [my peers] have been able to handle the situation quite well and keep the project rolling. I'm grateful for such an awesome team of talented young engineers and professionals.”

“The [Guatemalan] workers here never cease to amaze me; they are so small but so fuerte (strong). They also don't stop smiling. It makes our jobs a lot easier,” he remarked in another.

For fellow UD graduate student Kelly Ambrose, the trip has brought “a greater appreciation for many of the things we take for granted here in Delaware, such as clean water and electricity.” Ambrose traveled to Guatemala last winter with UD-EWB to perform a hydrological study and then returned for the first week of construction this winter. 

“EWB's projects, not just in Guatemala but also in Cameroon, are a great way for students to use their engineering skills outside the classroom, meet new people and give back to a community in need,” she said.

Key partners who have supported the UD-EWB Guatemala project include:

• Evelio Lopez, who grew up in San Jose and now lives in Seaford, Del.;

• April Veness, UD associate professor of geography, whose research on Guatemalan immigrants linked her to Lopez and San Jose;

• EWB professional engineers and mentors Guillermo Gordillo (Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson Inc.), Theodore Thomson (Pennoni Associates Inc.), Rod Pieretti (JJID) and Gary Pieretti (Pieretti's Landfeatures), and

• Melvin Diaz, a professional engineer in Guatemala who attended UD’s English Language Institute in 2010.

To learn more, read the official blog for the 2012 Guatemala trip or visit Berwick’s blog. Veness is documenting the UD bridge project's impact on the community in an electronic book

About UD-EWB

UD-EWB is an active student organization with more than 350 members dedicated to a world where everyone has access to adequate sanitation, safe drinking water and resources to meet their basic needs. 

In addition to the work in Guatemala, UD-EWB students have been making a difference in the lives of villagers in Bamendjou, Cameroon, located in central Africa, since 2007. Eight teams have traveled to Bamendjou under the direction of faculty advisor Steven Dentel to assess the community's needs for safe drinking water. In 2010, the group led the construction of a 20,000-liter ferrocement water tank that will serve as the reservoir for the community's planned distribution system.

Article by Karen B. Roberts

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