Responding to the Global Water Challenge

During spring semester 2008, five agricultural and biological engineering students chose to focus their senior capstone project on water problems on the West Bank of Palestine. They worked with a non-governmental organization (NGO) to deliver clean drinking water to Al Nwai’mah, a town of 2,200 residents.

For four months, the students made phone calls and collaborated with the local NGO before ultimately designing a filtration and disinfecting unit that made once polluted spring water safe for use. They also designed a water tower and distribution system for the village. The students then traveled to Jordan for 10 days and presented their design to engineers from the Palestinian Hydrology Group and students and faculty from the Hashemite University in Jordan.

“The project was an outstanding opportunity to do something different. It was outside the box, offered the possibility of actually helping people, and presented a unique challenge,” says Anne Dare, a member of the design team and now a student in the agricultural and biological engineering master’s program.

With a charge to make a difference around the world, Purdue engineering students and faculty will be involved in an increasing number of international experiential learning projects along the lines of the one on the West Bank. The projects are the perfect synthesis of global discovery, experiential learning, and international engagement that defines the new path for the College of Engineering. They are also in line with the College’s emerging focus on the global water challenge.

Rabi Mohtar, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and director of the Global Engineering Program, is one of the catalysts behind the emerging water initiative.

As a hydrologist who focuses on water and soil land-use models to encourage conservation of natural resources and nurture informed decisions about development, Mohtar backs his dedication to global solutions with personal action. He has done extensive work with water conservation in Tunisia and has led major water and natural resources initiatives in India, Jordan, France, and the Palestinian regions of Gaza and the West Bank. He is also dedicated to getting students involved in international research, among them doctoral student Kelsi Bracmort, who spent time in Tunisia and helped develop tools to evaluate local water conservations systems that are now being used by the country’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Says Dare, “Water is a basic need, and developing better ways to treat and distribute water in developing regions should be a priority. Providing clean water not only aids in disease control and prevention but also helps advance humanity. So often in the engineering world, we get caught up in enhancing our way of life, but the top tier of humanity cannot leave the bottom behind and expect progress.”