Story in the School of Engineering
Mechanical engineering student channels his learning into water and sanitation projects in Honduras with Engineers Without Borders-USA
Elliott Martin first became involved with Santa Clara University's Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA) chapter as a freshman when he joined the club on a water project in El Pital, Honduras. Three years later, he points to his experience with EWB-USA as a vital part of his education at Santa Clara.
Martin's journey with EWB-USA began when, like any engineer, he couldn't resist an opportunity to try and solve a problem. "It was a prime opportunity for me to practically apply what I was learning in school to solve real-world problems," he says. "It makes my education a lot more meaningful because it takes learning to a whole new level. Instead of just sitting in class and learning about theories, you see how you can literally apply everything you learn in the classroom, starting even freshman year, to these projects that we work on."
Equally valuable have been the various life and career skills he developed through his participation in EWB-USA and, this year, as president of the club. "I got to learn about so many things I otherwise wouldn't have learned?for example, project management, group facilitation, leadership skills," he explains. Martin notes that these skills have been useful in expanding the club's reach off-campus; for instance, members of Santa Clara's EWB-USA chapter recently presented on their work to Bechtel Corporation, a leading construction and engineering company. Such opportunities have also increased students' participation in the club.
A Sustainable Partnership
Beyond the educational enhancement it provides, EWB-USA offers students chances to connect with a community and make lasting changes. In El Pital, Honduras, Martin and the rest of the EWB-USA club at Santa Clara have worked with locals for the past few years to build a sustainable water system. "Part of our mission is to satisfy the most basic needs of life first," he explains. "Obviously clean water is one, and that's why we chose it."
Martin stresses that the success of such projects depends on how well students can empower the community, rather than just giving a product to them and then leaving. "Understanding the people you're working with is critical. It's key to understand where they come from and why they're in their current situation. Then you're really able to figure out how you fit in the picture and how you can help."
Since their first visit, students have developed an ongoing partnership with locals to establish a water system that will both meet the community's needs and be practical for the community to maintain. With the growth of EWB-USA on campus, the club has recently been able to begin a new sanitation project with the same community in Honduras. Martin hopes that, as students apply their learning to these projects, the relationships between students and the community will become sustainable partnerships that will help locals "internalize the projects" and make them their own.