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Building Trust During International Development Work: A Case Study Of A Recent Ewb Project

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Global Engineering Education: Developments, Implementations

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

14.298.1 - 14.298.6



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Paper Authors

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Marissa Jablonski University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee


Christopher Papadopoulos University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez

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Chris Papadopoulos is a faculty member in the Department of Engineering Science & Materials at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. His research interests include nonlinear structural mechanics, biomechanics, engineering education, and engineering ethics (with particular interest in appropriate technologies to serve impoverished and developing communities). He is an active member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE). He holds BS degrees in Civil Engineering and Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University, and a PhD in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Cornell University. He was previously a faculty member in the Department of Civil Engineering & Mechanics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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John Reisel University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

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John R. Reisel is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM.) He serves as Director of the Combustion Diagnostics Lab, Associate Director of the Center for Alternative Fuels, and co-Director of the Energy Conversion Efficiency Lab. His research efforts focus on combustion and energy utilization. Dr. Reisel was a 2005 recipient of the UWM Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award, the 2000 UWM-College of Engineering and Applied Science Outstanding Teaching Award, and a 1998 recipient of the SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award. Dr. Reisel is a member of ASEE, ASME, the Combustion Institute, and SAE. Dr. Reisel received his B.M.E. degree from Villanova University in 1989, his M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University in 1991, and his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University in 1994.

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Building Trust During International Development Work: A Case Study of a Recent EWB Project


For over a decade, engineering students have traveled to developing countries to assist in local development efforts through groups such as Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW). These efforts are well meaning, are often beneficial, and reflect the reality of the interconnected global community. However, inherent disparities between the visiting students and host community, including differences in wealth, education, and cultural priorities, illuminate a debate regarding the appropriateness of such projects.

Riley, for example, questions whether the allocation of significant resources for student travel to project sites in developing communities is justified; whether the benefits are mutual between the visiting students and the local community; and whether a loose collection of even hundreds of small-scale volunteer engineering projects can effect necessary development in poor nations1,2. Riley and others further raise the point that international development work, including with engineers, must be done in cooperation with, and not simply for, the recipient developing community3,4. Some argue that funding agencies should remove contingencies that specify procedures that are conventional in the rich world, but inappropriate for developing communities; instead, funding allocated for developing communities should allow local designation and specifications5. In particular, technologies that are truly appropriate are generally simple and can be understood and maintained by the local recipient community3,6.

With reasonable awareness of these questions and issues, we reflected upon our motivations, usefulness, and impacts as members of a new EWB chapter at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). We recently completed our first project in the small village of Quejchip, in the northwestern highlands of Guatemala. Quejchip’s potable water comes from natural mountain springs located at various elevations throughout their village. As the village’s population of 460 residents grows, they will inevitably build new homes and move up the mountainside. In 2007, the village purchased a spring at the highest altitude available in hopes of building a distribution system for the upper part of the village located above the existing water system. After our initial site assessment visit in June 2007 and a year of subsequent planning and designing, our EWB student chapter returned to Quejchip in June, 2008 to build a water distribution system fed from the newly purchased spring. These visits and related activities were funded by the UWM Student Association and several other fundraisers organized by our membership.

We agree that there are many problems associated with engineering students performing work in developing communities, and that there is a profound need for greater institutionalization of engineering efforts that are focused on serving impoverished and developing communities6. However, we also realized that groups such as ours can, in fact, play a critical role for some communities as long as some of the basic tenets of

Jablonski, M., & Papadopoulos, C., & Reisel, J. (2009, June), Building Trust During International Development Work: A Case Study Of A Recent Ewb Project Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5167

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