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Engineers Without Borders-Montana State University: A Case Study in Student-Directed Engagement in Community Service

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Diversity in Community Engagement Implementation II

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Kathryn Plymesser PE Montana State University, Billings

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Dr. Plymesser holds B.S. (CWRU ’01) and Ph.D. (MSU ’14) degrees in civil engineering. She is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Biological and Physical sciences at Montana State University Billings where she heads the pre-engineering program. She teaches Introduction to Engineering, and the introductory mechanics sequence (Statics, Dynamics, and Strength of Materials). Professor Plymesser has focused her research on the application of Computational Fluid Dynamics in natural settings with a balanced view of diverse water user needs. She has worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service both in Bozeman, MT and at the Region 5 headquarters in Amherst, MA on fish passage research projects, practical applications and assessments. Dr. Plymesser also serves as a professional mentor to the Montana State University, Engineers Without Borders chapter.

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Damon Lee Sheumaker

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Damon Sheumaker currently works at Enviromin, Inc. Where he is responsible for biogeochemical data collection and analysis and assisting with program management of operations for mining operations worldwide. He is currently completing a degree in Biomedical Sciences at Montana State University, Bozeman. Mr. Sheumaker has worked extensively with Engineers Without Borders@MSU organization in Western Kenya and has served in a project management position for a multitude of projects ranging from borehole drilling and construction to working with local government officials to develop solutions to sanitation challenges.

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Christopher Robert Allen Civil Engineering and the Center For Biofilm Engineering, Montana State University

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Chris Allen is a Ph.D candidate and instructor in the Civil Engineering Dept. at Montana State University. He currently teaches classes relating to hydrology and natural treatment systems for wastewater remediation while his research investigates seasonal nitrogen cycling and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions from constructed wetlands. For the past eight years he has been involved with Engineers Without Borders and is one of the current faculty advisors for the Montana State University chapter.

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Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at Montana State University (MSU) is an organization that has been successful in generating increased student engagement through service learning and is unique in the degree to which the organization has been built and directed by student volunteers. For the last decade, students have shouldered the responsibility associated with developing an organization that collaborates with primary schools in the Khwisero district of Western, Kenya to develop water and sanitation solutions. The continued success of the organization requires students to overcome the difficulty of year-to-year continuity, develop skills to undertake complex problems, and work in an unfamiliar culture to implement projects. To address these challenges, students engage faculty advisors, professionals and their peers to generate solutions collectively. While in the United States, students learn to perform all the activities of an international aid organization while simultaneously developing the next generation of student volunteers. While in Kenya, students continue to develop skills to overcome difficulties associated with international development where strong interpersonal and cross-cultural communication, project management, and an awareness of power differentials are necessary implement projects successfully. We propose that the achievements of EWB at MSU are a result of the level of responsibility the students have assumed, where there is real potential for failure, and the support of the MSU community for this style of organization. This case study explores the lessons learned in the development of a self-directed student organization conducting a long-term international service-learning project.

Plymesser, K., & Sheumaker, D. L., & Allen, C. R. (2016, June), Engineers Without Borders-Montana State University: A Case Study in Student-Directed Engagement in Community Service Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26681

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