Santa Clara University

SCU Engineering News

Reality Check

Reality Check

A month-long stay in a remote village in Nicaragua opened civil engineering senior Ashley Ciglar’s eyes to the realities of engineering for the real world. “Working in a developing country is challenging,” she said; “tools and parts that are readily available here in the United States are impossible to procure in a spot as isolated as Bluefields, Nicaragua, where I was working with the NGO BlueEnergy and villagers to build a water filtration system.” Part of the Global Fellows Program offered by SCU’s School of Business, Ashley was afforded a ground-level view of engineering as she worked alongside others transporting sand and gravel, making concrete, and creating a hygiene plan to teach children.

With the goal of killing 97% of harmful bacteria in the village’s water, Ashley worked on a system using a layer of biofilm above sand and gravel to filter organic materials and consume toxins. “One of the challenges was simply combating a lack of interest within the community,” she said, “and communication was difficult, as much because of cultural differences as due to language barriers. In Nicaragua, people do not say ‘no,’ so you may have to ask a question or share information seven or eight different ways in order to get the information you need or get your point across.” Strong community teams are vital for system maintenance, so it was important to get people on board. Local women were taught to carry on the process on their own. “It was rewarding to see how passing on this knowledge empowers women as leaders and authority figures within their community, and it felt good to bring this basic service of clean water to a community—it was right in line with SCU’s Jesuit ethos of taking our skills and talents out into the world,” she said.