The organization Engineers Without Borders (EWB) started in 2000 in San Pablo, Belize, with just a handful of engineers who designed and built a water system for a local Mayan village that had no running water. Today, EWB-USA has 320 professional and student chapters in the United States with hundreds of members who help improve the quality of life of developing communities throughout the world. 

“The most important thing to know about us is that we are very interested in being global,” says senior Walter Gunter, president of the EWB student chapter at the University of Utah. “The name of the organization says it all: Engineers Without Borders. We go anywhere we are needed in the world.”

The group currently has two active engineering partnerships abroad: one in Palestine and one in Madagascar.

In Palestine, five students from the U of U chapter teamed with students in Palestine to develop a plan to treat toxic wastewater produced by olive oil mills. In many Palestinian territories where olive oil milling is the main source of livelihood, wastewater from mills is a major environmental concern. The milling process generates not only olive oil, but also solid and liquid wastes that are released untreated into either the sewage network or onto uncultivated land. The dark, thick waste contributes to pollution in ground and surface waters. 

The students proposed a wastewater treatment plan that would keep some of the waste from being dumped onto the ground. The plan involves extracting by-products of olive oil that could be used for health and beauty industries, and processing solid wastes for use as fuel. The plan would also help to reduce the amount of fresh water necessary to produce olive oil. 

Last year, the group received the Mondialogo Engineering Award (the largest international engineering competition) to help complete their project. This spring, the students will implement their plan in a Palestinian community of about 4,000 people to improve water sanitation and help locals earn money by selling the chemicals extracted from mill water.

“We are the only group from Engineers Without Borders-USA with a project in the Middle East,” says Gunter.

In Madagascar, the U of U student chapter is partnering with a nongovernmental organization and a community in rural Madagascar to assist in building a health clinic. With 17 million inhabitants in the country, only three out of ten people have access to electricity and adequate water. The new facility will have electricity, clean water and sanitation. It will provide better health care and opportunities for local people to receive health education.

Closer to home, the student chapter also helps in local communities near campus. The group has begun mentoring students in Weber High School’s robotics team, as well as volunteering in the U of U’s College of Engineering outreach program.

“Our team is made up of very motivated students who want to get their hands dirty in solving problems,” says Gunter. “They really care and want to make a difference.”