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Dayton Engineer

Creative Community Engineering

By Sammy Miller

Like my friends who have taken semesters off to co-op at large engineering companies, I will finish my chemical engineering degree with a minor in sustainability, energy and the environment in five years. 

However, instead of working at a typical co-op, I have taken three semesters off to participate through the University of Dayton School of Engineering’s ETHOS programs

I have done two local immersions at CityWide Development in Dayton (fall 2018 and fall 2019) and one international immersion at SODIS in Cochabamba, Bolivia (summer 2019). The ETHOS Center has given me a passion for using engineering skills in unique, creative and innovative ways to make my local community and the world a happier and healthier place to live. 

CityWide Development, located in downtown Dayton, focuses on community and economic development in Dayton’s urban neighborhoods. They create and implement plans to promote neighborhood development and community building to revitalize once-vibrant neighborhoods and bring economic and job growth to these areas. 

During my first ETHOS Dayton immersion at CityWide in fall 2018, I worked as a community development intern focusing on food insecurity issues in West Dayton. I successfully organized, implemented and expanded a series of mobile farm stands with a local farmer and multiple community partners to increase healthy food access and provide options to those in areas with no grocery stores and limited transportation. 

That same fall, I also worked with Montgomery County Public Health to research the entire food system to prepare a county-wide food plan. Lastly, I coordinated an afterschool program for children in Hilltop, a public housing neighborhood in West Dayton. 

Overall, I learned about how, over time, systems and policies have created social justice issues such as poverty, food insecurity, and failing education systems and have given certain groups a privilege while denying others those privileges. This immersion taught me that I can use my engineering mindset in community development projects and that it’s important to understand the social justice issues happening right in your own community if you want to make a difference. 

My main projects for my second internship at CityWide in fall 2019 included developing and creating neighborhood plans for two neighborhoods in West Dayton, Pineview and Madden Hills. 

I attended neighborhood meetings and created visions and plans for vacant lots and a neighborhood lake. I learned that when you are creating visions and plans for neighborhoods, it is important not only to work with the residents but also to create a plan that is attainable and realistic. 

When creating a design for vacant lots, I considered what would look the best, what the residents wanted, what would add value to the lot, what is most cost effective, and what would be the easiest for the city to maintain. There are a lot of underlying factors that affect neighborhood planning, which I enjoy because I love projects that combine my artistic / creative mindset with my engineering / problem-solving mindset. ETHOS has given me the chance to use engineering, art and sustainability to work with communities and add value to spaces.

Along with my two local immersions, I also participated in an international ETHOS immersion in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and worked with an NGO called SODIS. SODIS has the mission to provide safe, clean drinking water for all of Bolivia. 

SODIS’s work includes building water filters at both the community and household level, training local leaders to build kitchen and bathrooms, providing irrigation systems so schools can grow food, and crowdfunding in Bolivia (and around the world) to raise money for these projects. 

During my time in Bolivia, my partner Pat and I traveled to rural villages in the mountains of Bolivia to visit communities where SODIS is working to provide clean water for both drinking and sanitation purposes. We went to a school and saw children washing their hands and drinking out of the same spigot. The water wasn’t safe to drink, but it was the only water they had, so the children had to drink it. 

Contaminated water is especially dangerous for kids because it causes diarrhea and can eventually cause death. This made me realize that a simple water filter or irrigation system (made using simple appropriate design techniques) can change the lives of children and communities. 

Along with a trip to the rural villages, Pat and I also helped SODIS market themselves and raise money to build kitchen, bathrooms and irrigation systems in these rural villages. Lastly, we designed and painted a mural in a store that SODIS recently bought to sell water filters in the city of Cochabamba. The mural represents how connections worldwide are important to achieve clean water access for everyone in the world. 

Along with work, I lived with a wonderful host family in Cochabamba, learned and lived in a new culture, and had the opportunity to travel and discover what a beautiful country Bolivia is. 

Overall, ETHOS has not only strengthened my engineering skills, but also, I have had the opportunity to learn about social justice issues (both locally and internationally), community engagement, neighborhood planning, sustainability and human-centered design. I have gained marketing, design, funding and communication skills. I even tried to learn a little Spanish while I deepened my cultural awareness. ETHOS has opened my eyes to so many opportunities that can be created when you use engineering to make communities happier and healthier. And because of ETHOS, I now know that this is something I will forever continue to do in my future.

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