Colin Frosch had two goals when coming to West Virginia University as a freshman in 2011.
He wanted to study abroad and join the WVU student chapter of Engineers Without Borders in his four years of undergraduate education. It just so happens, though, that Frosch will do both before the end of his first year.
Frosch, a freshman civil engineering in the engineering in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, is among four engineering students who will travel to the Fijian village of Nakavika in the Namosi Highlands on Viti Levu Island over Spring Break. The students will be accompanied by Lance Lin, an associate professor of environmental engineering.
“I initially thought that I wouldn’t have had a chance to take this trip since I am only a freshman, but much to my surprise actually, I got one of the positions,” said Frosch, a 2011 Foundation Scholar from Fairmont. “I never really imagined having this type of an opportunity in my first year, but I’m definitely going to take advantage of it.”
The group will be installing two slow-sand filters, which will decontaminate the water supply that nourishes around 250 village people. With the recent outbreak of typhoid in surrounding villages, the impact of those filters could drastically decrease the chance of an outbreak in this rainy jungle community.
“I’ve never been exposed to any culture quite like this, and it’s really exciting. The type of work that we’re doing is really rewarding in a lot of different ways. It’s all going to be pretty cool,” said Ryan Hough, a sophomore civil engineering major who transferred to WVU from WVU Tech last year. “It’s going to be eye opening to see how well we have it here in America and what we take that for granted a lot of times.”
The group will fly to Fiji on Saturday and stay inside the village. They will work for three or four days by climbing up a mountain and scoping out the water source, gathering measurements and putting in the filters before leaving the village and traveling back to the U.S.
“From an educational standpoint, the things that they learn in a classroom become real to them not just some abstract concept. This is going to make an impact in their future learning,” Lin said. “These students learn in class how to build a filter, they know the type of material that you need to use, how to clean it and disinfect it. Now, they will all apply the things that they’ve learned in the classroom in the real world.”
The slow-sand filter is a mix of sand and gravel that will rid the water of larger particles. Over time, a biological layer is formed that filters out even more potentially harmful materials.
“The filter is self-sustaining, so the village people don’t have to do a lot to keep it up, and obviously no electricity is needed to run it, because they don’t have it there,” Hough said.
associate professor of environmental engineering
This engineering partnership with the village continues what has been a solid bond between Nakavika and WVU that started in 2010. When the engineering group leaves, a group of students from the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center School of Medicine will head to Nakavika for the third time for an extended stay to give medical treatment to the area. A local artist, Debora Palmer from Morgantown’s Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners, will also travel with the medical team to work on an art project with the Fijian school children.
“Many diseases are spread through impure drinking water, such as Hepatitis A and typhoid. The water purification system that the engineers install will greatly improve the health of the villagers there and add to everyone’s safety during our trip,” said Jan Palmer, director of WELLWVU Student Health and one of five WVU faculty and students that will make the nearly month-long trip to Fiji.
In addition to the engineering experience the students will gain, it will also get to learn about a new culture.
“I’ve reach up on a lot of Fijian culture and the culture of the village that we’re traveling to, and it’s completely different than anything that you can imagine here. I’m really looking forward to that part of the trip,” Frosch said. “That is something that you can’t learn in the classroom. You can learn how to survey and make a water filter in a class, but you can’t experience first-hand a culture and other traditions from another culture.”
Taylor said: “I expect to learn some humility. Being glued to my cell phone and other technologies, I tend to take for granted what matters most in life, which are basic needs such as water. I’m excited to work with the villagers to get a perspective of what they would like done to help the greater good of the community.”
After collecting all of the needed information, the group will return to the U.S. and begin to develop a plan for a more permanent water system for the village. Once that is complete, they will return to implement the new system when they raise enough funds to make the trip.
“When you look at it, I don’t think you can put a dollar amount on what we’re going to be doing,” Frosch said. “The things that we’re going to be learning and experiencing will be mind-blowing.”
By Tony Dobies
CONTACT: Lance Lin, associate professor of environmental engineering
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