Dedicated to Development

Members of Texas A&M University’s Engineers Without Borders chapter put their technical prowess to work around the world.

    By Dorian Martin ’06
  • Lead photo by Jordan Snowzell
  • May. 16, 2022
    4 min read

In 2018, members of Texas A&M University’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter were combing through postings for international work when a project in Rwanda caught their eye. A rural, highland, agricultural community in the Ngororero District, home to 1,205 households with 6,143 people, was struggling with sanitation-related diseases and poor soil quality. The Aggies believed they could work effectively with the community to help provide access to affordable sanitation, increase agricultural income and foster food security.

Members excitedly formed groups to research specific project areas. COVID-19's emergence didn’t deter them; in fact, the Rwanda project sparked a commitment among chapter members to meet virtually throughout summer 2020. Students used 3D modeling to develop a composting latrine and handwashing station, identified resources that are easily accessible in Rwanda and brainstormed ways to efficiently scale the project to be viable for the community.

With the pandemic still limiting travel in 2021, the team started implementing its latrine project remotely. Members asked an Aggie student originally from Rwanda to translate the implementation documents so community members could easily understand the construction process. Today, they are meeting regularly with community leaders to teach them how to start constructing the first latrines.

This project is but one example of the organization’s commitment to building long-term infrastructure solutions for communities worldwide. “We don’t meet one time and say, ‘Here you go, good luck, hope it works and we’ll see you later,’” said Ruby Ross ’22, the chapter’s president. “We want to build truly sustainable solutions and adequately train local community members to maintain them.”

Photos provided by the Texas A&M College of Engineering

Setting the Base

Despite a challenging pandemic, Texas A&M’s EWB chapter is thriving. The student group, which assists with designing and completing sustainable high-impact engineering projects globally, has seen its membership grow by 475% over four years. The chapter began in the mid-2000s so students could apply their coursework to real-life engineering projects in communities with critical needs. In empowering members of these communities, the organization also allows Aggies to deeply embody Texas A&M’s core value of selfless service.

When the chapter initially formed, students focused on projects in the Bryan-College Station area, but they became more ambitious as their capacity grew. The Aggies’ first international project, which began in 2009, involved creating a computer center with a wastewater system, 950 meters of pipeline and several water storage tanks in Costa Rica. Today, in addition to the Rwanda project, its 115 members are also overseeing a project to build and sustain a water distribution and sanitation system in the Dominican Republic community of Villa Verde.

Gaining public attention for its good works, the chapter’s increased efforts have garnered interest and financial assistance. “We support organizations like EWB that allow Aggies to go overseas and see how others live,” said one donor, who wished to remain anonymous. “Individuals in these communities have a very different reality than what we experience in the United States. It’s important for Aggies to experience these situations so they better understand how the group’s projects make a huge difference for those communities.”

The chapter’s rapid growth has also resulted in the creation of the Fundamental Introduction to Engineering and Local Design Initiative, a learning process that equips members with the foundational skills—such as project management, AutoCAD, technical writing and surveying—they’ll need to assist on international projects.

Expansion Joints

For their innovative humanitarian service, the Aggie chapter was named the 2021 Texas A&M Student Organization of the Year and the 2021 Engineering Without Borders-USA Premier Student Chapter. Additionally, Ross received the national organization’s Exceptional Leadership Award for effectively conducting the chapter. But for her, the impactful experience and international perspective were rewarding enough already.

“EWB helped me see that I’m not limited,” said Ross, who will join plant-based pharmaceutical company iBio as a project manager after graduation. “For the longest time, I thought that once I graduated as a biomedical engineer, I could only make biomedical devices. But this organization taught me a spectrum of project management skills. It showed me that engineers are problem-solvers and that I really, really love people. Seeing talented Aggies use their gifts for the greater good inspired me to do the same for the rest of my life.” 

Make a Donation: Aggies in EWB hone their engineering skills by helping others across continents. To give toward Texas A&M’s EWB endowment and its development mission, contact Patrick Wilson ’10.