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Engineers without Borders at UW-Madison Wins United Nations Award

November 19, 2009

UW-Madison News — MADISON – Work on a project to provide a Haitian community with hydroelectric power has won the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders a prestigious United Nations engineering award.

“This is a huge honor, and it feels really good to have the project recognized at such a high level,” says Kyle Ankenbauer, a civil engineering student and co-manager of the Haiti project. “The award will help generate a lot of momentum behind this project since it’s been recognized by the UN.”

For much of the year, the Saint-Cyr River in northern Haiti is a docile trickle one foot deep. However, when the late spring rains bear down on the Saint-Cyr, the river swells in some points to be more than 30 feet across and 10 feet deep.

This volatility left a sinking feeling in the student members of the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders when they realized the extent of the flooding during their trip to Haiti in June to begin building a hydroelectric power generator. The site for the generator was in one of the areas most affected by flooding.

The students rallied to find a safer site, and they are currently working to construct a mini-hydroelectric power generator at the new site, which will provide three to five kilowatt hours of electricity to a school, library and church in Bayonnais, Haiti. The generator will also serve as a pilot project for a larger, 15- to 25-kilowatt generator the group may build for a community clinic currently in design.

Ankenbauer and UW-Madison chapter president Eyleen Chou, a mechanical engineering student, made a trip to Stuttgart, Germany, to accept $22,400 and a gold medal Mondialogo Engineering Award for the chapter.

The award is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and Daimler initiative to recognize engineering achievements aimed at meeting United Nations millennium development goals and fostering intercultural dialogue. The award was presented at the Mondialogo Symposium.

Engineers Without Borders is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving underdeveloped countries and communities around the world.

In addition to Haiti, the active UW-Madison chapter has projects in Rwanda, Kenya, El Salvador and Red Cliff, Wis. The Haiti project is unique because the UW-Madison chapter is collaborating extensively with other EWB chapters and NGOs. They share the Mondialogo award with Quisqueya University in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Bayonnais native and engineer Kenold Decimus joined Ankenbauer and Chou in Germany.

This is the second time the EWB-UW group has won a Mondialogo award; in 2005, the Rwanda project won a bronze award and about $7,000.

The University of Colorado-Boulder launched the first chapter of EWB in 2000 and a bridge project in Haiti was one of its earliest initiatives. Graduate student Scott Hamel was with the project from the beginning in 2002, and when he came to UW-Madison to pursue a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering, he encouraged the EWB-UW group to get involved.

The UW-Madison group did in 2006 and continued work on the bridge project in collaboration with the EWB San Francisco professional chapter (which currently is designing the clinic), a nongovernmental organization in Haiti and a church in North Carolina that now will support a salary for a local community member trained to maintain the hydroelectric generator. In addition to finishing and repairing the bridge after Hurricane Hannah, the EWB-UW group is currently repairing a 10-mile pipe that carries fresh water through Bayonnais and was recently damaged in a hurricane.

For Hamel, the connections he made with local people are why he continued to stay involved with the Haiti project.

“It’s the poorest country in the western hemisphere,” he says. “I feel a sense of responsibility toward people who haven’t had the same opportunities I’ve had, and the people I’ve met in Haiti are my friends now.”

Ankenbauer says the people of Bayonnais want to help improve their community. “We’re simply brining technology to people who are capable of supporting it and using it to better their community,” he says.

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– Sandra Knisely, 608-265-8592, knisely@wisc.edu

CONTACT: Kyle Ankenbauer, ankenbauer@wisc.edu; Giri Venkataramanan, 608-262-4479, giri@engr.wisc.edu

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