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Story in the School of Engineering

Sommer photo

William Sommer '11

Civil Engineering major
At a glance:

For their senior design project, William Sommer '11 and Dan Lawrie '11 helped villagers in Ghana construct a building for community gatherings.

Engineering is hard enough without the additional complications of language barriers, cultural differences, and supply delays. Civil engineering majors William Sommer ?11 and Dan Lawrie ?11 discovered this firsthand while collaborating with local masons in Gambibgo, Ghana, on a new method of building using local soil mixed with a little cement. They spent a month in the African village between fall and winter quarters teaching locals the inexpensive and sustainable construction method that they used to build a community gathering place.

The students came to realize that although this was their senior design project, it wasn?t about them. ?The whole idea is to make this a building they can construct without us,? Lawrie says. ?It was hard to build. It was frustrating. But it?s one of those times when you learn to just give. Not a lot of people get a chance to do something like that.?

The project built on efforts of two former senior design teams from SCU working under Civil Engineering Chair Mark Aschheim and Professor Sukhmander Singh in cooperation with Village Projects International, an organization that funds grassroots efforts for sustainable rural development. Lawrie and Sommer tweaked the techniques and designs used previously to make them easier for locals to replicate, eliminating more expensive options requiring a brick press and a corrugated tin roof.

?Knowledge is power in a lot of ways,? Sommer says. ?Sharing what we knew and what we?ve learned with the local people definitely made a difference. And these people?s lives will never be the same.?