UA Engineering Students Without Borders Repairs Plumbing, Ballfield in Hale County, Conducts Environmental Project in Peru

June 2007

How many times have you used water today? Water is, of course, an integral aspect of life and is necessary to complete many daily tasks like bathing, brushing your teeth and washing your hands. Now, imagine being billed hundreds of dollars for water you never received because of faulty pipes or leaks in your home.

Some Hale County residents have faced this nightmare, which is why UA's Engineering Students Without Borders has put its expertise to use by restoring the residents' plumbing

Engineers Students Without Borders has partnered with HERO Housing Resource Center, an organization aimed at reducing substandard housing conditions in Hale County, to improve residential plumbing in the area.

It is estimated that 40 percent of water sent to customers from the Hale County Water Department is lost because of bad piping and a decrease in water pressure. The water department asked HERO, who, in turn, asked Engineering Students Without Borders for its help.

Josh Hamilton, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering and the student project leader for ESWB, said some residents of Hale County are paying for water they do not receive because of problems in the piping. He explained that when some residents' pipes leak, they cannot afford to pay someone to repair the pipe, causing the problem to worsen.

"We are working with HERO and the Hale County Water Department to make it so that these families, whether they are elderly, single parents or simply on a fixed income, can receive water that is affordable," said Hamilton. "One of the residents we worked with was billed $800 for water, and was unable to pay the bill. That's where we come in."

"Not only are we helping the community," said Hamilton, "but the students who participate in these projects are getting hands-on engineering experience, which is something you cannot learn in a classroom or from a textbook."

Bonita Benner, project coordinator for HERO, said ESWB has fixed plumbing at seven homes.

ESWB also has partnered with the Black Belt Action Commission to restore Curtis Smith Field, a run-down baseball field in Greensboro, restoring the baseball field in an effort to increase interest in the sport in the Black Belt community. Members of the Black Belt Action Commission sought ESWB's assistance after recognizing the need for improved recreational areas for their youth.

"Baseball used to be a big deal in the Black Belt," said Dr. Philip Johnson, adviser for ESWB. "Kids used to play the game, but it has died out, and there is no longer a little league team in Hale County, which is why we are sending students there to help."

Drs. Philip and Pauline Johnson received an award from CCBP in April, the Outstanding Faculty/Staff-Initiated Engagement Effort Award for their ESWB work. Both are associate professors of civil, construction and environmental engineering.

Also, UA's Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility presented Dr. Pauline Johnson with an Innovative Service Learning Faculty Award, and the Community Service Center recognized ESWB's work by giving the organization its Caritas Award.

Engineers Students Without Borders traveled to Peru in May as part of UA's interim class. Students in ESWB spent two weeks in Iquitos, Peru, working on community water and ecotourism projects.