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Dayton Engineer

UD engineering faculty, alumni, students building water system for Malawi schools

By Sarina Tacovic, marketing and communications

UD School of Engineering faculty, staff and alumni are leading by example and showing students how to serve others with their engineering skills by improving access to water for schools in Malawi.

Don Chase, civil engineering lecturer, and his spouse Nancy Chase, a UD graduate, former School of Engineering cooperative education director and now an Emerson senior applications engineer, are working with ETHOS international immersion students to design and build a water storage and transmission system for schools run by the Wasambo Education Foundation to empower northern Malawian youth through education.

According to Don Chase, each student has access to roughly 2 liters of water per day, less than the daily 25 liters per person usage in Africa and the daily 400 liters per person usage in the United States. Their goal is to provide 200 liters daily per person with the new water system.

"Having the opportunity to participate in this project and continue to learn, lead and serve is very satisfying," said Nancy Chase. "Taking the skills developed as a student — not just technical, but also employing compassion, community building and seeing a bigger picture — feels like using my education for the greater good. As a professional and an alum, finding a way to give back with hands-on work and seeing this project come to life is extremely rewarding."

The Chases and their colleague Dave Guastella, senior vice president at Alfred Benesch & Company, have been working on this project since 2018. They chose to work on a multi-year project in an effort to provide continuity for the students and the Wasambo Education Foundation.

"Projects like this take multiple years and groups of students over the years to accomplish the task," Guastella said. "It's more efficient to accomplish them this way because very few will be done over a summer, and as new groups of students come in, tasks are already lined up for them. Even though different students touch it, each one sees how they fit into the whole picture."

Senior engineering and ETHOS immersion students Abigail Ward and Rainer Kosnik helped map the water pipeline and identify locations for wells and community water taps over the summer.

For Ward, using her civil engineering education was great, but what she gained from working with the local community was even greater.

"In America, you have a one-sided view of how things work even when you're around other cultures, but going to Malawi opened my eyes to different ways of thinking," Ward said. "There's not just one way to accomplish tasks and it's not wrong just because it's different from what I know or what we learn. I can use that understanding in the future when I'm working with somebody who has a different perspective or way of doing things."

Looking to the future, the Wasambo Education Foundation's plans include a girls' high school and a technical college in addition to the current boys' high school, which further increases the need for clean drinking water.

"There's still lots of work to be done on that campus," Don Chase said. "The population would be about 2,500 people, a small city, on 110 acres and include families of the students as well as teachers and employees. There's a need for infrastructure beyond water, so the vision is to include electricity, roadways and wastewater as well as additional buildings that will house and support the growing campus.

"Anything our God-given skills and talents can provide, we aim to do that."

To get involved with the project, email Don Chase. To get involved with the Ethos Center, email Executive Director Kelly Bohrer.

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