UW News

March 26, 2008

Engineers Without Borders-USA international conference this week in Seattle

UW News

Engineers Without Borders-USA will hold its annual conference Thursday through Sunday on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus. More than 600 attendees will demonstrate how the group is creating a niche in the philanthropic community: professionals using their technical skills to complete clean-water, sanitation and infrastructure projects.

The meeting is co-hosted by the UW and Seattle University student chapters and by the Puget Sound professional chapter. The theme of the Seattle conference is “Sustainable engineering, global health.”

Highlights of this year’s event include:

  • Keynote speech by William H. Gates, Sr., co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Kane Hall 130
  • “Around the world with Engineers Without Borders-USA,” presentations on projects by local chapters: Friday, 11 a.m. – noon, Kane Hall 130
  • Awards ceremony with Bonnie Dunbar, president and CEO of the Museum of Flight and former NASA astronaut: Friday, 6:30 p.m. — 9:30 p.m., Museum of Flight
  • Presentation by Heather Fleming, co-founder of the Appropriate Technology Design Team, whose cooking stove for refugees in Darfur has been featured in O Magazine and Newsweek: Saturday, 10 a.m. — 11:15 a.m., Kane Hall 130
  • “Engineering with soul,” closing speech by Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders-USA: Sunday, 11:30 a.m. — noon, Kane Hall 130

Engineers Without Borders-USA was founded in 2000 and today has 300 chapters across the country. This will be the fifth international meeting, and the first time the event has been held on the West Coast.

Professional and student members respond to communities’ requests for help on projects such as water sanitation and irrigation systems, housing and road designs, and health-related infrastructure. More than 100 chapters will be represented at the conference.

The UW student chapter will describe its work in Yanayo, a Bolivian village in the Andean highlands. A team spent a month last summer installing wood-fired stoves that would stop smoke from accumulating in kitchen huts. UW mechanical engineering undergraduate Aaron Liss built two prototypes in Seattle, one in a UW basement and one in his backyard, to perfect an adobe design that would be efficient, clean-burning and accommodate traditional cooking styles. His team helped local Bolivians build and install the stoves in July. Other teams worked on an irrigation system and roof replacement project.

The UW chapter will return to Bolivia to work on roads and expand the stove project to neighboring communities. UW members are also beginning a project to supply clean drinking water to a village in Suriname located downstream of gold-mining operations. A local project is also in the works at San Juan National Park.

The Seattle University student chapter will describe its work on a water-treatment facility in Thailand, a bridge in Jamaica and a storm water overflow system in Nicaragua.

The Puget Sound professional chapter’s recent activities include redesigning schools destroyed in Sri Lanka by the 2004 tsunami and planning water supply systems for a drought-prone region of Ethiopia. One local professional member is evaluating a biodiesel project that would power Jamaican fire trucks.

“Engineers Without Borders offers a platform for young engineers to apply their engineering skills in philanthropic ways. This generational shift in concerns is very apparent, and important as we struggle to encourage more young people to consider engineering as a career,” said Kurt Fraese, chief executive officer of Seattle-based GeoEngineers, a conference sponsor.

More information and a conference agenda is posted at www.ewb-usa.org/ConferenceInfo.php.


For more information or to schedule interviews, contact Hannah Hickey at (206) 543-2580 and hickeyh@u.washington.edu or Engineers Without Borders-USA media contact Dianne Shanks at (719) 429-1666 and pressroom@ewb-usa.org.