SDSU engineering students offered helping hand during Spring Break

Holly Leske


While some SDSU students escaped to beaches during Spring Break, a group of engineering majors put their studies to use in South America.

The SDSU chapter of Engineers Without Borders took their Spring Break time seriously, using the week to return to Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, where they are helping the Academica Campesina install a water development system focusing on sanitation.

Water safety is a large problem in Bolivia, with things like bacteria and eroded dirt in the water causing a variety of water-borne illnesses. Clean water is crucial for good health, both in drinking and showering, as it’s often hard to be completely clean when the water isn’t.

Rebecca Hofmeister, SDSU student and Health and Safety Officer for Engineers without Borders, served as one of two representatives that were certified for First Aid and CPR on the trip. She was also the photographer and went on the trip because of her interest in water treatment, management, and resources.

“I have a strong desire to travel and make a difference globally, so our project fits perfectly with what I am looking for in the future,” Hofmeister said. “I am falling in love with the university in Bolivia!”

This was the group’s second trip to the area and was used to gather more information on how best to implement, as well as construct, the sanitation equipment. The group focuses on developing simple, robust systems that will have the greatest benefit for Bolivian villagers.

“By talking with the community we discovered what was most important for them, and in the process realized how important it is to be certain that what we are doing is exactly what the university and community wants and will be able to upkeep,” Hofmeister said.

The chapter’s five-year goal is to completely revitalize the village’s drinking water supply through sanitation and increased water safety, making what is a daily concern in Carmen Pampa a scare of the past.

Bruce Berdainer, professor and department head of Civil and Environmental Engineering, led the group in their recent trips. Berdainer has a variety of experiences developing similar projects in Haiti and being a fellow for the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“It’s really important, for the engineering students especially, to have that opportunity to help another culture and to figure out how they can use the information they’re learning [in school] to help another country,” he said.

This project funnels directly into the Engineers Without Borders vision that, through their efforts, people can live in “a world in which the communities we serve have the capacity to sustainably meet their basic human need.”

According to Berdainer these trips are more crucial than ever to a student’s major as they can now, “be doing more and more international work,” during their collegiate years.

A third trip is already being planned for this summer. It’s then the group hopes to install the water systems they had been gathering information about. In the meantime the organization will work on raising $25,000 — the amount needed to complete their project and cover transportation costs.

A fundraising committee has been established and will be looking at opportunities to cover their costs through talking to rotary clubs, consulting engineering firms in Sioux Falls and launching letter writing campaigns to generate support for the project.

Now that Engineers Without Borders is an official organization on campus, Berdainer hopes the message of their projects and the opportunities to practice what students are learning in class will encourage more engineering majors to get involved.

“I wanted as many [students] as possible to have this experience,” Berdainer said.