For elementary school children living in villages outside of New Delhi, India, learning in dim light and sweltering classrooms has become a way of life. With limited access to water and electricity, teachers often choose between holding classes in the hot, humid outdoors or using kerosene lamps indoors with their inherent fire and air quality risks. A group of students in the College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture, led by civil engineering major Matthew Garneau ’19, set out to improve this difficult learning environment by increasing the water and power supply in two local schools.
This was Matthew’s second trip to India during winter break, and his first leading the team as vice president of the University’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter. “I wanted to return to India in a leadership role because our efforts made such a dramatic difference to the quality of the children’s school days,” says Matthew of South Windsor, Conn., who, during his first trip in 2015, installed faster well pumps and Uninterruptable Power Systems (UPS) in primary schools.
“Power is turned on for a maximum of only two hours a day, so classrooms are almost dark, and the heat makes it difficult for students to concentrate,” Matthew says. “Limited access to power also means less water will be available, since well pumps needs electricity to run,” he explains.
Over the course of nearly two weeks, Matthew directed the team as it installed higher-powered water pumps and UPS' in two government primary schools in the villages of Rithoj and Raisena, located about an hour outside of New Delhi. Matthew, who has been running his own landscaping company for four years, oversaw local technicians and worked with translators to negotiate prices at local parts suppliers.
“We did most of the engineering and measurement work for the installations at CETA, so we made only minor calculation adjustments to better fit both systems,“ Matthew points out. The students also had opportunities to interact with villagers and learn firsthand about Indian culture.
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering David Pines, who oversees EWB at UHart, notes the students not only successfully implemented these sustainable engineering missions, they also checked in on longer term work he and other UHart students have completed over the 10 years the chapter has been traveling to the country, and surveyed sites where future well pumps and UPS systems can be installed.
EWB projects at the University have been steadily growing. Pines and another team of students visited Kenya’s Lake Region over spring break, continuing efforts to dramatically improve the harvesting process for farmers using a threshing machine designed by a UHart student (read more here). The chapter, which has expanded to include the Hartford EWB Professional Chapter and the Hartford Art School, is working on three new challenging projects. Matthew is on board with all of them, as he plans to run for chapter president next year.
“All EWB members serve as important links to projects that give us the chance to apply practical knowledge, sometimes even before we learn the theory behind it,” he says. “Providing solutions to world problems helps us go from being students to being engineers.”