UMR students to spend spring break disinfecting water supplies in Guatemala

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On February 14, 2006

This spring break, students from two University of Missouri-Rolla classes will travel south with water on their minds. Not the kind of water with waves and sunny beaches – these students are using the break to help people in Guatemala improve the quality of water coming out of their taps.         

A man in Guatemala checks his water supply.

UMR students enrolled in “International Engineering and Design” and “Women as Global Leaders” classes will travel to the highlands of Guatemala March 25-31.         

“The spring break trip is an interdisciplinary academic pursuit,” says Dr. Curt Elmore, an assistant professor of geological engineering who teaches the international engineering class. “Students will design, construct and install sustainable disinfection systems.”      

Students are currently testing water filters at UMR. They hope to be able to make additional filters in Guatemala.         

“Previous trips to Guatemala have allowed us to identify some of the water problems, like fecal contamination, and now we’re working on them,” says Elmore, who has been leading UMR trips to Central America since 2002. “This year, we’ll be taking our largest group to Guatemala.”         

UMR filters might make water emptying into sinks like this more safe.

Contaminated water is a direct cause of diarrhea, which, worldwide, kills about 2.2 million people – mostly children – every year.         

In the highlands of Guatemala, populated primarily by indigenous people, spring water is piped down through forested mountains and volcanic terrain, utilizing gravity. Sinks are typically located outdoors, near houses. The UMR students from the engineering and design class plan to attach their filter systems to the outdoor plumbing leading to individual spigots.         

Students from the “Women as Global Leaders” class will also be collecting data and teaching school children about water quality issues.         

When they’re not working directly on water quality problems, the students will be learning about the local culture. Some members of the UMR contingent, including Elmore, can speak enough Spanish to get by. But they’ll mainly be hearing an unfamiliar Mayan language in remote parts of Guatemala.         

“A lot of people wear colorful clothing, hand-woven on looms,” Elmore says. “They have traditions like blood sacrifices. We’ll probably see a chicken sacrifice.”         

They’ll also likely play soccer and whiffle ball with the kids, according to Elmore.       

Jenna Tune, a junior in biological sciences, is going on her second UMR trip to Guatemala. Last year, she visited an orphanage where a new water well had been installed. She says the children at the orphanage made a big impression on her, especially one of the boys who had made a point of avoiding her at first.         

Tune eventually gained the little boy’s trust, and he finally moved closer to her and whispered something in Spanish. “I have no idea what he actually said,” Tune recalls, “but he sounded sincere and I left that day feeling rewarded.”

The UMR students are required to pay $500 as part of class fees to help offset travel expenses.        

Elmore says water quality issues in Guatemala have also become a focus of another Rolla group, the UMR chapter of Engineers Without Borders.        

The following UMR students, faculty and staff will visit Guatemala this spring break:

– Robert Bogie, a senior in engineering management from Moberly, Mo.

– Emma Cawlfield, a senior at RollaHigh School

– Dr. Jeffrey Cawlfield, UMR professor and chair of geological engineering

– Dr. Curt Elmore, UMR assistant professor of geological engineering

– Cecilia Elmore, director of the UMR Women’s Leadership Institute

– Cecilia Fernandez, a senior in ceramic engineering from Duncanville, Texas

– George Fletcher, a senior in geological engineering from Marshall, Mo.

– Jennifer Gilmore, a senior in ceramic engineering from Raymore, Mo.

– Andrew Jugan, a graduate student in geological engineering from Waynesville, Mo.

– James Lenz, a senior in ceramic engineering from Holyoke, Colo.

– Dr. Paula Lutz, dean of the UMR College of Arts and Sciences

– Erik Messner, a senior in architectural engineering from Raytown, Mo.

– Jacob Midkiff, a senior in geological engineering from Rolla

– Andrea Muller, a graduate student in ceramic engineering from Manchester, Mo.

– Lesley Noe, a junior in civil and environmental engineering from Springfield, Mo.

– Noah Parsons, a senior in geological engineering from New Haven, Mo.

– Jeffrey Rodelas, a senior in ceramic engineering from Fordland, Mo.

– Rachel Swearingin, a senior in civil engineering from Kalamazoo, Mich.

– Jenna Tune, a junior in biological sciences from Rolla

– Cassidy Volek, a senior in ceramic engineering from Birch Run, Mich.

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On February 14, 2006. Posted in News