Engineering students opt for real world experience
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Seniors in the University of Florida’s department of environmental engineering sciences could have taken the easy way out and tackled a more traditional assignment as their graduation capstone project, but they didn’t. Instead, they are designing waste management systems to be used by two cities in a developing nation.
In early October, 10 students travelled to Guatemala to meet with city officials, business people and citizens in San Juan Chamelco and Tactic, to talk about their current trash disposal arrangements. The students are now drawing up plans for a comprehensive system that features a new facility for sorting, composting, and an environmentally friendly landfill in each city.
For the students, the assignment fulfills a critical requirement for graduation. For the citizens of Tactic and San Juan Chamelco, the new plans could mean cleaner water, and a farewell to the unsightly, hazardous dump sites that have grown out of control in both cities.
“The current disposal site in San Juan Chamelco is on a man’s private property,” said Erin White, a student who is working on the plan to close and cover the old dump sites once the new facilities are built. “Tactic’s was in a cemetery.” The sites are dangerous, said White, because the trash is not covered or compacted. Someone scavenging trash in San Juan Chamelco was killed in an avalanche of garbage last year, she said.
Neither location was a planned disposal site, said White. But with no organized system in place for handling waste, the people chose a spot that was convenient for dumping. Twenty years later, the piles are still growing, and trash that was once almost entirely organic now has a higher concentration of trash like what you would find in an American city.
“Tires, Styrofoam, and plastic cell phones don’t just break down over time and become soil like their trash did twenty years ago,” said White.
“The people in the two cities know what they need to do, but they don’t have the training to design it themselves,” said Antonio Yaquian-Luna, an environmental engineering graduate student who helped coordinate the project. Yaquian-Luna is from Guatemala and said that he feels very fortunate to “give back” to people in his home country. He will deliver the plans personally in December once the team has assembled their final drafts.
The team working on the Guatemala project is the second environmental engineering class to turn their graduation exercise requirement into a philanthropic endeavor. Last year, seniors in the program, designed a waste management plan for a city in Haiti.
The students say that designing a plan that they know will be put into practice is more stressful than working for a theoretical client, but it’s also rewarding to know that your hard work will benefit someone else.
“You know that your plan isn’t just going to sit on a shelf somewhere,” she said.
- Donna Hesterman, email@example.com, 352-846-2573