While many college students make plans to spend spring break on the beaches of Cancun or Florida, a group of University of Missouri-Rolla students are preparing to spend their break installing a water system for a village in Guatemala.
The 10 students also will earn college credit for the work. They are enrolled in a special geological engineering course, "International Groundwater Studies," offered this semester by Dr. Curt Elmore, an assistant professor of geological engineering at UMR.
From March 22-29, during UMR’s spring break, the students, Elmore and a few other volunteers will travel to the village of Lemoa, in the highlands of Guatemala, to expand on an undergraduate research project taken on last spring by UMR student Erin Sommers of Jefferson City, Mo. and Elmore and his wife Cecilia Elmore, coordinator of student recruitment for the UMR School of Mines and Metallurgy.
Last spring Sommers, a senior geological engineering major at UMR, and the Elmores went to Guatemala to manage the drilling of a $40,000 water well for an orphanage in Lemoa. The project was supported by UMR’s Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experiences (OURE) program and through a grant from Samaritan Hands, a mission organization affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The orphanage, Hogar del Nino, is also affiliated with the Methodist church and Samaritan Hands.
This year, Sommers will again join the Elmores on a trip to Lemoa, where they and the other students enrolled in Elmore’s course will expand the water system to provide clean water to a nearby elementary school and neighboring residents of the village.
Like many of the small villages in Guatemala’s highlands, Lemoa has no water system. "Most places have electricity, but in the small villages a sustainable source of water is a problem," Elmore says. During the rainy season, villagers must purchase purified water for drinking and rely on small, hand-dug wells or cisterns to catch rainwater for washing, he adds.
Elmore’s students will construct and install a water system being designed by students enrolled this semester in GE 350, Geological Engineering Design. Sommers and another geological engineering senior, Craig Kaibel of Troy, Mo., are also enrolled in the design course, so will be involved not only in the construction and installation of the system but also in its design.
Also while in Guatemala, the students will gather information about Lemoa’s geology and water in hopes of applying it to future water systems for other villages. "They’re going to collect data about the quantity and quality of water available in this village, and in the future we will infer it to other areas to develop safe and sustainable water supplies for those villages."
Elmore initially planned to limit enrollment to eight students for this project, but was surprised at the level of interest. "There really seems to be a sense of wanting to help others" among students, he says. He ended up allowing 10 students to enroll and had to turn away a few others.
Besides Sommers and Kaibel, other students enrolled in the course are:
– Mark Burton of Chillicothe, Mo., a graduate student in geology and geophysics.