Recently, Lehigh students and faculty used their skills to solve a real-life problem — and dramatically improve the quality of an entire community.
In the village of Pueblo Nuevo, Honduras, in the highlands of Central America, clean drinking water has been a scarce commodity in recent years. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch all but destroyed the water supply to this village, and the development of a new neighboring community exacerbated the problem. Unreliable sources and distribution infrastructure, a lack of education on the importance of sanitary drinking water, a surge in the parasitic content of their water — these have all added up to serious hardship and an increase in disease among the 10,000 or so residents of the town.
Kristen Jellison, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is leading a Lehigh effort to help this small rural community ensure a clean, reliable supply of water to its residents.
Jellison, along with Erica Smith Caloiero, director of Lehigh’s Study Abroad program, and students Stacy Sommerfield and Carol Crewdson traveled to Honduras over the summer to meet with the town’s mayor, doctor, plumber, teachers, and others, to determine the project’s next steps.
“The people of Pueblo Nuevo will benefit from having world-class expertise tackling this issue, and the Lehigh academic community will benefit from the experience and knowledge gained through solving a real-world, cross-disciplinary problem.”
“The solution to this problem involves far more than applying engineering expertise,” says Jellison. “There is a cost-analysis aspect, linguistic barriers to overcome, a crucial community involvement and education piece, and cultural, religious, and political realities that cannot be ignored. We are looking to involve many parts of our academic community; the people of Pueblo Nuevo will benefit from having world-class expertise tackling this issue, and the Lehigh academic community will benefit from the experience and knowledge gained through solving a real-world, cross-disciplinary problem.”
To deal with this wide-ranging set of issues, the Lehigh team helped establish an on campus organization named “Students for Sustainable Development,” and called upon the expertise of students and faculty from all corners of the community.
The group is now planning for a baseline community health survey, a topographical assessment, and an effort to design an improved water distribution network in Pueblo Nuevo.
In the end, Jellison is hoping that the project not only helps an entire community to improve its health and vigor, but helps to raise Lehigh students’ awareness of how their efforts can impact society at large.
“Universities are much more than education and research institutions,” she says. “We also must work to develop responsible international citizens who can take all of that education and research and put it to use where it is needed most.”