Santa Clara University


A Thirst for Adventure Brings Clean Water to Honduras

A spirit of adventure, willingness to help others, and desire to put their engineering skills to good use in the world are some of the motivations that drive engineering students to participate in the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), but what keeps them involved…is patience.

Elliott Martin, a senior mechanical engineering student, is president of SCU’s student chapter of EWB and recently returned from his third visit to El Pital, Honduras, where Bronco engineers are working with local citizens and Un Mundo, a non-government organization, on a number of projects tied to a water distribution system for the rural community. “On our last trip, we wrapped up assessment and made a final decision on which water source to use and laid out next steps. A comprehensive survey of the entire proposed system will be conducted and curricula for educating the community must be created and implemented before construction can begin in 2015. Education is crucial to the success of the project,” he said.  

EWB students with members of the local water board
Photo: Tonya Nilsson

Rob Golterman, a junior, agrees. “To think we can just focus on the engineering is foolish,” he said; “it takes so much more than just designing a system and installing it. Part of our job is to teach hygiene and sanitation—lessons we take for granted in the United States, but the importance of which cannot be overlooked in developing regions.” Having traveled to El Pital, Rob is keenly aware of the benefit he and his fellow students derive from meeting the people and seeing the community’s needs first-hand. “Getting involved in EWB has taught us so much about how the world works, how people interact and communicate, and how a project gets done. This is a unique learning opportunity for me and all the students who went,” he said. 

Fresh from their trip to Honduras, a group of EWB students pitched their project to a group of top executives from an international construction giant. “They questioned us repeatedly on why we would wait until 2015 before starting construction when we could have started yesterday, theoretically,” said Martin. “But we stood up for what we believe is right—long term sustainability is reliant on education, and that will take time.” In the end, the students’ passion and expertise paid off; they walked away not only with corporate funding, but also with checks from the individual execs. “It was really affirming for the students to be acknowledged as the experts, to validate that they are on the right track and to learn that their passion and work can inspire others. Knowing they can stand up and tell their stories and get the results they hoped for is a great confidence builder,” said faculty advisor and civil engineering lecturer Tonya Nilsson, who added, “One of the greatest things about working with this group is seeing the change in students who travel.”  

Site visits are an important part of the design process.
Photo: Tonya Nilsson

Colin Boyle ’14, who had extensive international travel experience before joining EWB, concurs. “It’s a big eye-opener for those who are leaving the country for the first time. Seeing the cultural and educational differences inspires us to keep doing what we’re doing. It makes it a lot more real and brings it closer to home.”  

“Working with EWB has just been a really prime opportunity,” said Martin. “Not only has it changed my life because of the potential for this project, but it has changed me at a different level. I have more motivation for all my classes because I’m learning things that I can apply right away. It makes my experience at SCU more meaningful to have a real project and the tools and techniques and a place to put them in the world.”  

For more information on how to support the SCU student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, visit

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