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Miami engineering organization helps communities across Ohio and the globe

Miami University's chapter of Engineers Without Borders works to provide engineering solutions to communities from Ohio to Rwanda.
Miami University's chapter of Engineers Without Borders works to provide engineering solutions to communities from Ohio to Rwanda.

When junior biomedical engineering major Ilsa Shaikh has free time, she spends it thinking about how to get clean water to a community she’s never been to.

Shaikh, is a project leader for Miami University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a national group with over 200 chapters across the nation. Since 2015, the chapter has worked to provide engineering solutions in Rwanda and Uganda to help communities access clean water.

Shaikh leads the organization’s efforts in Munini, Rwanda. This year will be the first time students travel outside the country since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nobody that has traveled is a student in Engineers Without Borders anymore,” Shaikh says. “We are in a completely fresh wave of students who have just done virtual implementation … but communication has been great among the members, and everybody’s working towards it.”

Asia Flores, the club’s president and a junior biomedical engineering major, explained the impact EWBs’ projects have throughout the world.

“There are people depending on us to come through with our projects that will help improve water distribution or water cleanliness or sanitation,” Flores said. “Those are things that we have to follow through with. It’s not like ‘Oh, I can get an extension on this homework assignment’ … the stakes are different. You kind of get a taste of the real world, I think, through our club.”

Flores added that the projects give engineering students a chance to work with new cultures.

“One of the biggest takeaways that we really try and stress is appreciation for the cultures of communities that we work with,” Flores said. “When we partner with a community, it’s exactly that – it’s a partnership.”

Part of the partnership that EWB wants to foster is in its own community. The organization is open to students of all majors.

Members get to choose whether they work with overseas communities or help areas in Ohio with engineering problems. One team is helping the Miami University Institute for Food Farm construct a bridge.

Jake Bopple, a senior mechanical engineering major, is helping a community in Ohio connect a pipeline to a nearby city in Upper Sandusky.

Because the community is located in the same state, Bopple said he and other students have been able to visit it more often.

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“We do a lot of data collection up in Northwest Ohio, and I’ve really enjoyed being able to get into the field and survey,” Bopple says. “Not only with the other people on the team, but with the mentors as well.”

Chuck Dragga, who worked with the EWB Greater Cincinnati Professionals Chapter, serves as a mentor to the Miami students. He has high praise for Miami’s chapter.

“I like the enthusiasm of the students,” Dragga said. “They’ve developed a very good reputation for doing quality work amongst the national chapter. They’re considered one of the best chapters in the country.”

Dragga explained that his work with the chapter helps both the students’ projects and their learning.

“Miami’s projects are mostly civil engineering based, and there’s no civil department here in Miami,” Dragga said. “I teach them components of civil engineering, but it’s the basics which they can grasp and use in their other courses too. So it provides for them a real-world experience using their engineering.” 

To help with the projects, the organization’s members work in groups to raise money. These groups include corporate outreach, grant-writing and event-planning. 

Cyrus Dittmar, a first-year chemical engineering major, works with the grant-writing operation. He said it gives him a chance to improve his skills outside the classroom. 

“It really helps in professional writing landscapes,” Dittmar says, “which, obviously being a freshman, I haven’t done a whole lot of yet.”

In addition to the other operations, Miami’s EWB team has a group dedicated to local outreach. The group is in charge of creating engineering-themed events for organizations near Oxford. One of the group’s biggest projects is an engineering day at Talawanda Middle School.

Mahir Rahman, a sophomore computer science major and the leader of the corporate outreach team, explained the value of working with EWB.

“You’re getting that immersive experience right here, right now,” Rahman said. “You’re actually going out there. You’re building pipeline. You’re seeing what goes wrong at what time.”