In May I had the opportunity to travel to Lumbisi, Ecuador, to study what makes international engineering design projects sustainable and durable. With a team of other graduate and undergraduate students and three faculty members, we spent two weeks conducting surveys and interviews and learning the cultural, political, and social atmosphere of the Lumbisi.
Many international engineering projects (think water distribution systems, water filtration, agricultural irrigation systems, etc.) are rooted in good intentions: technically trained people want to use their skills to better those around the world who are less fortunate than themselves. But sadly, many of these good intentions lead to projects, especially in rural communities, that ultimately fail. The research in Lumbisi is designed to understand the importance of viewing an engineering project holistically, even if it seems purely technical at first glance.
Think of a water distribution system. It may seem straightforward enough: a source, a few tanks, and some pipe. But who is going to maintain it? Where will replacement parts be purchased and with what funds? Who will benefit from the system, and who won’t? How does the community view water? As a sacred gift? A free resource? Answering these questions (and allowing yourself to discover the answers to questions you might not even initially consider) is crucial to the ultimate success of the project.
Lumbisi, situated twenty minutes outside of Quito, was absolutely beautiful. I had the chance to stay with a host family who immediately made Lumbisi feel like home! By the end of our trip, my team had discovered intricacies that we never could have imagined before traveling and began to understand how each one could potentially impact a future engineering project.
My trip was graciously funded through support from the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.
- Keilin Jahnke, doctoral candidate in Agricultural and Biological Engineering
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