Sowing Seeds of Change

Retired Purdue professor pursues a mission to improve conditions in rural Africa.

Growing up in Zimbabwe with missionary parents, John Huie assumed he would follow a career in service or international development. Instead, his passion for the people of Zimbabwe and other underdeveloped countries led to work in higher education and government. Now, as professor emeritus of agricultural economics, Huie is finding new ways to reconnect with his homeland.

Huie is helping bring Purdue research to struggling regions of Africa, including Zimbabwe, through a $25,000 gift to support the Innovation in International Development Lab (I2D) in the Office of Global Engineering Programs (GEP).

A community member collects water, which will be cleaned and filtered using the WATER team’s method. The WATER Tanzania project, established by Purdue’s GEP, provides safe and potable drinking water to rural villages in Tanzania.

“Purdue and GEP have the potential to make huge impacts on people across the world,” Huie says. “Whether it is helping save lives or improve economic conditions, it is gratifying to support the work of students and faculty who are making a difference by addressing grand challenges.”

With his personal experiences in Africa, Huie is especially interested in funding I2D lab faculty and student innovations in the areas of water and sanitation. Those advances include slow sand filters and the Water Access to Empower Rural (WATER) Tanzania, which improves water access for rural communities through sustainable, community-based water harvesting systems.

Both projects support GEP’s role in fulfilling the College’s strategic initiative to deliver world changing research. They translate the College’s innovative engineering ideas into sustainable development projects for poor and vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries.

“Water purification is a special interest of mine, because I know it is a major concern around the world with people needing access to better water,” Huie says. “I’ve seen statistics that every 12 seconds a child dies from poor water conditions or malnutrition. I think anything we can do to assist those families is worthy of our support.”

In Cameroon, students from Purdue and members of ACREST, a community partner, drive the Purdue Utility Platform (PUP). The PUP provides improved mobility to farmers living in rural areas to transport both goods and equipment more efficiently.

Huie also is a strong believer in the ability of GEP and I2D to provide solutions for small-scale farmers in some of the poorest parts of the world. Projects such as the Purdue Utility Platform (PUP), which involves designing a new type of vehicle that can perform agricultural and transportation tasks at minimal cost, are aimed at alleviating or helping reduce poverty by improving the ability of farmers to increase their production and gain access to markets.

“Some of these programs directly impact the women and children who manage the farm to survive while the men look for off-farm work,” Huie says. “The whole notion of giving back to support such beneficial research is a very satisfying experience. I think most people who are able to give find it is the most rewarding thing they can do. I would also encourage them to visit these struggling areas to see for themselves the lives they have the power to impact, just as our students are doing through these innovative programs.”

Planting the Seeds

Arvind Raman, associate dean for GEP and the Robert V. Adams Professor of Mechanical Engineering, says Huie’s gift is the kind of seed money that helps GEP move Purdue research ideas from the lab to the areas that need them most.

I think most people who are able to give find it is the most rewarding thing they can do. I would also encourage them to visit these struggling areas to see for themselves the lives they have the power to impact, just as our students are doing through these innovative programs.

Professor Emeritus, Agricultural Economics, Purdue University

“Most major funding sources for international development do not support research and development projects in their early stages,” Raman says. “But gifts like this help us develop and test innovations through our international partners to tackle grand challenges that affect the world’s poorest areas. These projects completely depend on benefactors like John to provide financial support, seed grants that enable faculty and students to start working on those really bottleneck-type problems. Strong partnerships with top NGOs or corporate partners ensure that there is a pathway to scaling the interventions to have broad impact.”

Raman says Purdue is unique among major universities in its mission and ability to have a major impact on communities overseas — thanks in large part to the generosity of individuals like John Huie. By translating research that helps developing countries, the College of Engineering meets its strategic goal of preparing graduates to be leaders who can address the economic and societal challenges of the 21st century.

Raman says, “For me personally, my goal with GEP is to enable the wonderful Purdue faculty and students to make a difference — throughout the world — through what we learn, research, develop and translate in engineering. These are truly transformative global experiences for our faculty and future engineers.”

To help support initiatives in Global Engineering Programs, contact Hilary Butler, director of development, at 765-494-6383Call 765-494-6383 or