The university’s new Center for Engineering Action is giving a boost to student and faculty humanitarian projects
Under a scorching Costa Rican sun, Neil Chavan shoveled a load of sand into a wheelbarrow and hauled it down a dirt road to where fellow Case Western Reserve University students used the material to bury a section of pipe they’d just laid in a 3-foot-deep ditch. As monkeys shrieked from the treetops and the occasional cow passed by, Chavan returned for another load.
A third-year chemical engineering and environmental studies major at the time, Chavan was accustomed to solving complex problems in the classroom. But he had never used his know-how to solve a real-world problem like this one: designing and building a replacement water system in a remote village.
Chavan and the other students—all members of the campus Humanitarian Design Corps—developed their project plans in Cleveland and then traveled in March 2018 to Las Pilas, a 20-minute drive from the Pacific Coast. There, they installed a kilometer of new pipeline in just five days and trained residents—who had been running out of water during the dry season—to finish the second kilometer.
“They were so grateful for the help,” said Chavan, who was team leader last year and returned in March on this year’s team to evaluate the pipeline’s condition, repair leaks and assess topsoil erosion that occurred during the rainy season.
For years, students at Case Western Reserve and other universities have used their technological skills to improve the lives of others—at home and abroad. But just over a year ago, the university set itself apart, ratcheting up support for such humanitarian projects with the launch of the new Center for Engineering Action.