VILLANOVA, Pa. – For the last five years, teams from Villanova University’s Center for Humanitarian Engineering and International Development and Aqua America, a division of Essential Utilities, have led water supply initiatives for communities in Panama, Nicaragua, Ghana and Madagascar. As part of this work, the teams collaborate on partner-driven initiatives in community development, providing technical support to help advance sustainable solutions for international communities. The projects focus on technological innovations in remote monitoring and asset management, sustainable development, and capacity building to improve local management.
“These projects have been integrated across political borders as well as academic and corporate boundaries,” says Jordan Ermilio, PhD, Assistant Professor of Practice and Director of Villanova’s Center for Humanitarian Engineering and International Development. “There is something about the nature of this work that breaks down barriers and forces everyone to come together to solve problems. Faculty and students work side by side with corporate executives and local community members, with everyone getting dirt on their shoes to combat poverty and improve the lives of people in developing communities.”
Service-learning and outreach is not new in the College of Engineering at Villanova University, where students and faculty have been informally working with organizations since the early 90s. In 2011, service-learning was officially integrated into the College and, more recently, research on sustainable development has been included through the establishment of the Center for Humanitarian Engineering and International Development. At the present time, the center has 16 partners in 12 countries, where students and faculty provide technical support in the form of engineering design and research services to humanitarian organizations worldwide.
“Our projects are rooted in ethical engagement with project partners and communities, and fundamental to this is the belief that empowering local communities is essential to creating sustainable solutions,” says Dr. Ermilio. “One of the keys to our success has been integrating corporate partners into our efforts wherein the provision of technical support has taken on a new dimension.”
In Nicaragua, where Villanova Engineering has been involved since 2004, students and faculty from the University—together with experts from Aqua America—have provided technical support for water supply infrastructure throughout the remote community of Waslala, improving water services to 6,000 people, including local communities, schools, and an orphanage.
In Ghana, Villanova and Aqua America are focusing on the design and implementation of monitoring and evaluation tools to support the sustainability of handpumps throughout the country and ongoing efforts to create tools for local operators to better manage and maintain handpump functionality using geospacial identification. For example, this past year, a team from Aqua America with expertise in asset management mentored a group of undergraduate students, who developed surveying tools that use tablets and smart phones to monitor handpump performance characteristics.
“What is so fundamental and key in the projects that we as a company have helped Villanova students participate in is that the projects have grounded, sustainable models in place in the country, with on-the-ground support, which makes them really sustainable,” says Kimberly Joyce, Vice President, Regulatory and Government Affairs at Essential Utilities. “Villanova students are always looking to solve problems, and they come up with very creative ideas to do so.”
In the spring of 2020, 48 Villanova Engineering students (28 female, 20 male) provided technical support for 10 projects in seven countries. Engineering faculty working with the Center include professors from the departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Sustainable Engineering.
Though travel related fieldwork for the program is currently on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty and students are still engaged with program partners. Teams of students are providing remote technical assistance in the form of engineering design services and are also working with partners to support their efforts with supplemental funding to keep projects moving forward.
About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit www.villanova.edu.
About Aqua Water and Wastewater: A division of Essential Utilities, Aqua’s Water and Wastewater utilities serve more than 3 million people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, Indiana and Virginia. Visit Aqua online at AquaAmerica.com, facebook.com/MyAquaAmerica, and twitter.com/MyAquaAmerica.