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08-05-2010

Clarkson University Young Scholars Program Seeks Solutions for Sustainable Water Quality in Ecuador

While many of their peers were at sports camps or working summer jobs, 18 high school students from New York, New Jersey, Vermont and Virginia were working together at Clarkson University to solve Ecuador’s clean drinking water problems through Clarkson’s Young Scholars Program.

As the basis for the Young Scholars Program (which is sponsored by The Clarkson School), the students were given a problem and had just one short week to solve it.

This year, the Young Scholars designed and implemented a sustainable system that could provide clean drinking water to a small community in Ecuador called La Margarita, where the drinking water has unhealthy levels of pathogens that can cause disease.

This problem is one that Clarkson’s Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB) student team has been working on over the last two years.

Throughout the week, the group met with Clarkson professors and students who have been involved with EWB, and visited Potsdam’s water plant and filtration system to get an idea of how clean water is provided locally. They also gained valuable experience in science, engineering, health and safety, social policy, mathematics, and teamwork.

"By learning more about how the engineering design process works, I came to the realization that engineering is the right choice for me," says Maureen Hoen, a student from Hamburg, N.Y. "Along the way, we learned the importance of communication, compromise, and how working in a team effectively can produce the best results,"

On the final day of the program, the students presented their solution to family members, community members, Clarkson professors , and a panel of "experts," including Political Science Professor Chris Robinson, Research Assistant Professor Temitop Ojo, Institute for a Sustainable Environment Professor Michelle Crimi, and Gabrielle String ’11, president of Clarkson’s EWB-USA chapter.

The group’s solution involved using two separate systems to provide clean drinking water to the citizens of La Margarita, which comprises 75 homes along the Los Tintos River. The first system, for La Margarita’s wet season, took advantage of the village’s large amount of rainfall by suggesting the use of a rainwater catching and filtration system for each house in the village. The dry season system utilized many items that were previously found in most village homes and a sand and gravel filtration system, also for each house in the village.

Both solutions met the Ecuador Drinking Water Standards, yielded more than enough drinking water for each family, cost less than $2 per 1,000 gallons and were considered sustainable for the future. They also yielded positive feedback from parents, panelists and professors.

"I think you did a great job," said Wendy Baker, mother of participant Dylan Hovey from Victory, Vt. "This presentation and experience exceeded my expectations of what you, as students, could accomplish in one week. I’m so impressed."

Biology Professor Alan Rossner, who joined Environmental Engineering Professor Shane Rogers and Philosophy Professor William Vitek as faculty mentors for the week, gave the students encouragement to maintain their environmental curiosity.

"Given the extensive number of environmental problems we face around the world such as the Gulf oil spill, climate change, droughts and clean drinking water, it is easy to become discouraged," he said. "Yet I can think of 18 reasons for optimism -- the students of this program. Our world’s most difficult problems will be solved by their generation -- and they are clearly ready for the challenge."

This fall, six of the 18 participants will be continuing their education at The Clarkson School, an early college program for high school students.

Students who participate in the Young Scholars Program receive an additional $4,000 scholarship ($1,000 over four years) toward their undergraduate education at Clarkson, including The Clarkson School.

For more information on the Young Scholars Program or The Clarkson School, visit http://www.clarkson.edu/tcs .

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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