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VOL. 126 | NO. 73 | Thursday, April 14, 2011

National Organization Engineers Without Borders Boosts Memphis Presence

By Sarah Baker

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Starting in June, Memphis will be able to boast a significant addition to its engineering resume, touching on design, education and philanthropy in one fell swoop.

The city is expected to land an official chapter of the Engineers Without Borders-USA – a national organization devoted to helping create a more stable and prosperous world by addressing and providing human necessities such as clean water, power, sanitation and education.

Memphis has a professional chapter in place but it won’t be formally recognized until later this year, when the University of Memphis’ student chapter also will begin.

EWB-USA relies on its more than 12,000 members to set up local chapters across the country. Currently, the organization has more than 250 chapters including university chapters on 180 campuses.

But student chapter applications are only considered biannually in January and June. That’s where Meg Johnson Wade came in.

After a brief stint working as a marketing coordinator for Nashville-based SSR Ellers Inc., Wade made the decision to go back to school and study graduate civil engineering at the U of M.

During her tenure there, Wade worked with David Arellano, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, to start a student chapter. One of the difficulties the duo found in creating a student chapter was the lack of a professional chapter.

“The purpose of the professional chapter is to work with the student chapter to act as mentors, first and foremost, to give them design guidance,” Wade said. “And then the other part is to actually work on projects either with them or independently along the same lines as the national organization’s mission.”

Starting in the fall 2011 semester, the student chapter’s intent is to have a minimum of one meeting per month. Presently, no class credit is offered but it is a long-term goal of Arellano’s.

“It will provide a venue for University of Memphis students to obtain educational, research, and field experience in sustainability from an international perspective,” said Arellano. “The student chapter will benefit from the availability of the university’s expertise in engineering, architecture and health fields.”

The primary goal of the U of M’s student chapter is to design water facilities for developing countries and villages overseas – all of which will be funded through a combination of fundraisers, including corporate, society and club sponsorships, individual donors and grants.

But before the student chapter departs the states, members will undergo a thorough due diligence period in which the professional chapter will train and convey concepts such as sustainable and innovative designs.

“One of the main issues that (the students) have in going to some of these villages is you can design something, but they may not be able to maintain it or operate it if it breaks, it may not be a feasible thing for them to continue operating once we’re gone and out of the country,” Wade said. “So we need to research what has worked in other countries, using natural resources that are available in the communities to accomplish the goal.”

The goal requires a five-year commitment to a particular community, from providing an irrigation system to building footbridges to constructing solar panels.

In addition to working abroad, EWB-Memphis will define a community outreach program. The Nashville chapter, for instance, works with an organization called Tools for Schools whose members build concession stands and desks for new schools.

“We’ll have local stuff going on no matter what we’re involved in overseas,” Wade said.

So far, the Memphis professional chapter has about 18 engineers, mainly from SSR Ellers and Askew Hargraves Harcourt (A2H). The goal is to increase that membership within the first year to about 30 active participants – the size of the Nashville chapter – and move toward 100 members within the next five years.

While engineering is at the core of the organization, EWB-Memphis welcomes anyone with an interest.

“They don’t have to be an engineer but they can be part of the organization and help as their talents provide,” Wade said.

Both the professional and student chapter will hold a joint meeting Friday with keynote speaker Andy Kizzee, structural engineer with SSR, who will be addressing, “Design in the Developing World.”

Also at the meeting, the professional chapter will hold officer elections. The meeting is slated for 1 p.m. in the Engineering Administration Building Room 102A.

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