George Mason University

NCEES Engineering Education Award $10,000 winner

Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering

Project: Water Supply, Distribution, and Storage, San Pablo de Amali, Ecuador


Students: Johnathan Parker, Anna Close, Giorgio Barchitta, Gracy Morrissey, Moises Herrera, Nick Tenorio, Hannah Thompson, Karla Pineda, Katharine Simpson, Caleb Hanneman, Ben Tieu, Mubeen Farukh, Sylvia McLain, Paul Cipparone, and Stephanie Thomson

Faculty:David Lattanzi and Sam Salem

Professional Engineers: Matthew Doyle, P.E., Jeff Chapin, P.E., Chris Triolo, P.E., David Smith, P.E., James Kelly, P.E., Pasquale Arcese, P.E., and Christin Villagomez, P.E.

Additional Participants: Ingrid Davis-Colato, Emily Conrad, Hannah Saggau, Rachel Conrad, and Chris Jensen, L.S.

Jury comments:

“This is a model project showing the successful collaboration between student engineers, their professional engineering mentors, and the community leaders and members in Ecuador. A team approach was taken to successfully solve a challenge of providing a safe and sustainable water supply.”

“The students seemed to have learned a lot and were personally impacted by their work.  This has been a multi-year commitment, and I hope the students will bring it to fruition with the second phase of the project that is planned.”

“This one was another good example of something that was done from start to finish and the money from the award will go toward implementing the project, which is great!”

David Lattanzi, Ph.D., P.E. is an Associate Professor at George Mason University. 

What value does a real-world project bring to the students?

Real-world projects provide invaluable opportunities for students to apply classroom knowledge in practical scenarios. Not only does this help them make the leap from student to practicing engineer, it also serves to show them how their current and future work impacts communities and deepens their understanding of ethical and professional considerations.

How do you decide which projects to work on?

The decision really comes down to a handful questions:

  1. Will the project have a clear and measurable benefit to a local community?
  2. Does the project provide educational opportunities for engineers?
  3. What are the associated project risks, and are they manageable?

How did this project prepare students for professional practice?

The San Pablo project touched on almost every technical aspect of civil engineering, as well as many ethical and professional considerations. The project required a complex and detailed site assessment, followed by an in-depth feasibility study and preliminary design. The local community’s needs and challenges were front and center from day one of this process. The design required interdisciplinary team coordination and collaboration, and students needed to work with local governments to ensure safety and code compliance.  When it came time to implement the final design, students were forced to come to terms with how site conditions and construction practices require creativity and holistic understanding of a project’s goals.

What advice do you have for other programs wanting to add similar collaborative projects to their curriculum?

My biggest piece of advice is to make sure that the students maintain ownership over the project. It is easy to want to intervene, especially if you are someone with professional experience. At the end of the day, the focus needs to be on the students and their educational journey.

What did you like best about participating in this project?

This project truly helped me evolve as a leader and as an engineer. I was able to apply the knowledge gained from my classes to help people get clean water in their homes, which has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life so far.

What did you learn?

As the project manager, I learned a lot about client management. Clear communication was absolutely crucial to getting this project off of the ground and keeping it moving forward. We had to learn that at the end of the day we weren’t the end users of this system, so we needed to be sure to get the community’s input and approval in major decisions we had to make.

How did the participation of professional engineers improve the experience?

As bright-eyed college students, we had a tendency to get over ambitious with some of the things we wanted for this project. Having the insight and experience of a professional engineer helped us find a middle ground and create a really successful project.

What do you think the engineers learned from working with students on this project?

The projects that Engineers for International Development take on are unique because they allow students to learn how to apply concepts learned in class and also allow the engineers assisting with the projects to tap into their creativity. It gives them the opportunity to try out new technology they may not otherwise be able to utilize in their professional careers. Being willing to always learn and adapt is so important to being an engineer, and I believe the engineers on these projects get to learn just as much as the students.

Why did you get involved with the project?

I have been involved with Engineers for International Development (EfID) since the creation of the organization in 2010. EfID has conducted numerous projects in Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, the Peruvian Andes, and the Amazon, addressing small communities’ concerns about water shortages, clean water access, sanitation, and hygiene. Since EfID has created tremendous social impact through its work, I felt that my expertise in water distribution systems fit well with the organization, as well as the project.

How did you assist the students in the project?

I assisted the students with the hydraulics and water distribution system design. Over the two-year period, we spent countless hours working together to understand the client’s needs. Once we had a good understanding, we worked together to resolve the technical problem. After the problem was solved, we work on logistics, project planning, and our construction management skills to implement the project.

What did you learn from working with the students?

I learned that our engineering profession is in really good hands. These students are engaged and motivated to make a difference.

What did you want students to learn from working with you?

The student knew the technical basics; however, what they learned from me was client management and clear communications with all key stakeholders. I wanted the students to know the significances of a positive client partnership. Knowing that the clients’ needs are the top priority is an invaluable skill that these students’ will be able apply in their futures as engineers.