Engineers Without Borders Returns to Kenya

After traveling over 7,900 miles on March 15th, a group of students and mentors walked out into the warm night air, standing just outside the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. The group was Engineers Without Borders from Hope College (EWB-Hope). The team of 5 students, Chris Rexroth, Annie Dankovich, Matthew Dickerson, Krista Nelson, and myself, Graham Gould, accompanied by mentors Adam Peckens and Dale Nowicki, were headed to Bondo, Kenya to monitor and assess the water systems that were installed in the community. In 2017, EWB-Hope worked with the community of approximately 500 people to install two wells and a rainwater catchment system. Prior to Hope EWB-Hope’s involvement, there had been no clean water source within the community boundaries.

EWB-Hope members inspecting components of previously installed rainwater catchment system

This year’s trip focused on monitoring and assessing to ensure the upkeep of the current systems, as well as determining the feasibility of installing another well. The first order of business was the opening meeting, during which the overall trip goals and happenings in the past year were discussed. The next few days were spent inspecting the water systems by checking if all of the components still worked properly and operated smoothly.

Hope student, Graham Gould, and interpreter, Paul O’lango, conducting a well head survey

Water quality testing was also completed to ensure the water being provided was actually clean and free of contaminants, such as fecal coliforms. One morning during well hours, (wells are only open for a certain period of time) teams were assigned to each well to conduct surveys of the community members using the wells. The goal of the surveys was to understand water accessibility and water usage. The chapter could finally collect data and see firsthand the changes in the community due to the installed systems.

Community members collecting water from a well installed by EWB-Hope

Personally, it was humbling to see a young woman, the same age as me, walk for half an hour one way carrying 3 yellow 20 liter bins to fill for her family’s daily water needs. She would then have to make several trips back and forth to bring all the water home, as one 20 liter can of water was heavy enough for one trip. This made me really consider the ease of access to water that we have in the U.S., which so many of us take for granted, and put into perspective how valuable of a resource this is.

In-country hydrogeologist conducting a resistivity survey

EWB-Hope is also looking at the possibility of installing a third well in the community, in a region that still lacks access to water, termed Bondo C. To properly assess the need, the team mapped potential locations using a GPS and also worked with an in-country hydrogeologist who conducted hydrogeological surveys. These surveys use resistivity to map the ground layers straight down from one point. They can be thought of as a sonar system, as two metal probes connected to a machine send a current from one to the other. The day before the hydrogeologist came, community members showed the team around the Bondo C region to locate possible sites. That evening the team looked at five potential locations and narrowed it down to three based on location relative to other wells and higher population density areas, elevation from sea level, and ease of access for drilling. The data from the surveys at these three locations is now being analyzed by students back at Hope College.

Team members Annie, Krista, Chris, Matthew, Graham, and Dale with children from the community.

Going on this trip made me realize just how much we take clean water for granted. In the U.S., it is not a big deal to leave the faucet on while doing something else, which wastes so much water. In Bondo, every drop has to be earned by going to wherever clean water can be found, sometimes miles away. While driving through the outer regions of Kenya, we saw people cleaning their clothes, bathing, and gathering water from a cloudy, brown river. There was no sparkly bottom to this river, making us realize just how lucky we really are. Clean water is still very much a valuable resource.

From an engineering standpoint, the trip impacted me as I saw the results of the chapter’s previous and continued hard work in Kenya. Through this experience, I was able to observe firsthand what is only in writing back home and gain a clearer perspective of the situation. To future students considering a trip like this, I would say go! Opportunities like this truly change your view on life.

Written by Graham Gould.  Graham is a freshman engineering student at Hope College.  He became involved in EWB during his first semester at college.

Aerospace Aspirations

A typical semester for Hope College engineering student Samuel Bachwich (‘21) includes a full load of challenging courses across campus and long hours working on the Formula SAE team. During the fall 2018 semester he added one more activity to his schedule: Sam had the privilege of being a member of NASA’s inaugural L’SPACE Academy. Sam is passionate about spaceflight and space exploration, so when he heard about the program from Hope professor, Courtney Peckens, he applied right away and was accepted about a week later.

Sam Bachwich working on CAD models for a Mars lander.

As an increasing number of NASA employees retire, L’SPACE Academy is an attempt by NASA to prepare students for careers in the space industry. The academy is officially linked to NASA’s LUCY mission to the Trojan asteroids near Jupiter (projected to launch in 2021), and is two semesters in length, with the first semester being Level 1 of the program and the second semester being Level 2. Acceptance into Level 2 is partly contingent on each individual’s performance in the Level 1 group project, as well as, each group’s performance as a whole. Although it is not a class worth any college credit, the L’SPACE Academy does award a certificate to those that satisfactorily complete the program. The real benefit, though, is the extraordinary experience of learning from NASA engineers and the opportunity to work on a NASA directed project.

During Level 1 this past fall, all participants used video chat software to meet one night a week throughout the semester to view a 90-minute presentation given by NASA. Each week featured a different speaker, including, leading engineers and managers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. Participants (about 300 overall) were grouped into teams of nine students based on their time zone and fields of study and given a project for the duration of the semester. Last semester’s project was to write a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) document for a hypothetical mission to Mars. All science-affiliated majors in the group were tasked with determining a landing site for a Mars lander, a list of researchable science questions, and a short list of instruments that could be attached to the lander to investigate the generated questions. The engineering-affiliated students in the group were tasked with designing the lander and its descent system (meant to lower the lander from a height of 9 meters above ground to the surface). The lander came with a set of constraints: it could not have more than half a kilogram of mass, it could not cost more than $20, and it had to fit inside a cube measuring 30 cm to a side.

The group project provided a wealth of experience. Sam contributed to designs for his team’s lander concept and was involved in drafting those designs in SolidWorks (making great use of his FSAE and CAD class experiences!). He was also involved in constructing the bill of materials for the lander, and contributed to the Preliminary Design Report. Overall, Sam found the L’SPACE Academy to be an incredible opportunity. He was exposed to new concepts and technologies, like NASA’s mission review process, presentations on NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission, and access to NASA’s JMARS software (the mapping software used for the Martian surface).  He reported that the group project was an invaluable experience, “that taught me a lot about communication, initiative, and many more general career skills.” While he waits to hear if he will be accepted into Level 2, Sam is actively encouraging others interested in aerospace to consider applying for upcoming Level 1 sessions. Regardless of the outcome, Sam has gained clear confirmation that engineering for space applications is a career path and calling he wants to energetically pursue.

Current students interested in learning more about the L’SPACE Academy can access the website here or see a sample presentation about the Mars Sample Return mission here.

Hope’s Formula SAE Team Competes in National Autocross Event

Hope student, Morgan Dalman ('19) shows off the Hope FSAE 2018 race car at the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Solo Nationals competition
Morgan Dalman (’19) and Hope’s 2018 FSAE car at the SCCA Solo National competition.

Members of Hope College’s formula SAE team recently returned to Lincoln Airpark in Nebraska,  which was the site of their 11th place finish in the June, 2018 FSAE competition. This time they were in Lincoln to participate in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Solo Nationals competition. The SCCA competition attracted nearly 1,400 drivers this year, making it one of the largest racing events in the world. The event attracts primarily amateur drivers, though a few professionals also race.  The competition took place on two autocross courses, which are racetracks made of cones. The drivers compete in their car class for the quickest combined time of the two courses without drawing time penalties for hitting cones.

Students Morgan Dalman (‘19), Jarret Matson (‘19), Jack Heideman (‘20), Theo Roffey (‘21) and the team advisor Carl Heideman were the team’s representatives. After walking the track about 10 times, the races started. The course walk is a major part of autocrossing because the drivers are not allowed to test the course in a car prior to the race.  Therefore, being able to dictate speed and line is an important skill. The SCCA tracks were setup to run much faster than a typical FSAE competition, which allowed the team to test their vehicle closer to its upper performance limits.

Hope student, YYYY YYY ('XX), seated in the Hope FSAE car in full race gear prepared to begin an autocross course.
Morgan Dalman (’19) prepares to complete one of the two autocross courses.

The team’s drivers, Morgan, Jarrett, and Jack put down very respectable times on both courses. On the first course many drivers in cars similar to the Hope car finishes in 63-65seconds, while Hope’s drivers clocked in at 63 second or better. More importantly, the competition provided a lot of new information and experience necessary for enhancing the car’s performance. For example, the team learned from the driver of an A-mod style racecar that changing tire pressures from 10 psi in front and 8 psi in rear to 15 psi in front and 13 psi in the rear would provide much more grip on concrete surfaces compared to the grip on asphalt surfaces. The team was also able to meet many people who were formerly or are currently involved in FSAE, including, recent graduates, knowledgeable advisers of current teams, and representatives from companies that support other teams. Each contact provided helpful insight on the car and team dynamics. Overall, the team learned a great amount at Solo Nationals and hope to return there next year and many more years to come.

Engineers Without Borders Spring Trip to Kenya

Jenny Pedersen in Kenya.

On March 14th, five student members of Hope College’s Engineers Without Borders chapter (Kayty Ihara, Andrew Caris, Matthew Dickerson, Owen Donahoe, and myself, Jenny Pedersen) began a 10 day trip to Bondo, Kenya. We were accompanied by two mentors Nick Frank and Joe VanBennekom.  The purpose of the trip was to monitor wells and a rain catchment system that were installed by the chapter in a rural community in Kenya during the summer of 2017.

The team arrived in Nairobi on March 15th at 9pm and stayed at St. Paul’s University overnight. On the 16th we took the 8 hour journey to Bondo. Upon arrival we met Charles, a Kenyan native that was kind enough to let all seven of our chapter members stay on his property.  During the week, we spent time in the Bondo community conducting surveys about water accessibility, usage, and storage practices. We also collected water quality samples from the wells and the rain catchment system to verify the systems were still functioning properly and providing clean water to the community. All of the water quality tests showed that the water is clean and suitable for drinking!

Well installed in 2017.

Something I learned during this trip is how much we take water for granted, I always knew we use a lot of water in the US but it really hit home when I saw the journey that people take just to get water. Additionally, I learned how important it is to be grateful and generous. The community members were so welcoming and willing to give what little they had. It was an extremely eye opening experience to see the joy and gratitude that the local Kenyan culture displayed, even for small blessings. To be immersed in a different culture was an amazing experience that helped me gain perspective on my own life. It was a great reminder of how present God is and how he provides no matter who or where you are, and that you can either let a situation define you or let your faith define you!

I believe this trip will impact my life going forward as an engineer by reminding me of what goals are important to work toward. For me, that is ultimately helping others through my engineering practice and giving every person I meet the love and respect they deserve. Not only does this trip remind me to count my blessings and be thankful for whatever my future career may hold, but it also reminds me to appreciate the different kinds of people I will interact with in the workplace. To students considering trips like this, I would say GO! If it is with Engineers Without Borders, or even an immersion trip, I think it is so important to experience different cultures to try to truly understand what fuels them!