More than 20 ESF students and members of our Engineers without Borders club traveled to Philadelphia to attend the EWB 2012 Northeast Regional Conference. While our student Tom Decker made a presentation on ESF’s new Appropriate Technology course, 3 other students took time to reflect on their favorite talk by other presenters. Below I paste these blogs:

John Rice wrote…”Out of all of the speakers at the 2012 Engineers Without Borders Northeast Regional Conference, I most enjoyed the keynote presentation by Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia’s Water Department Commissioner. His presentation was entitled Green City, Clean Waters, and focused mainly on what Philadelphia is doing to minimize runoff and keep its waters clean, but also focused on the many benefits of green infrastructure; especially those pieces of green infrastructure related to water usage, transport, filtration, and runoff prevention.

Cover image for Commissioner Neukrug's talk, Green City, Clean Waters

Cover image for Commissioner Neukrug’s talk, Green City, Clean Waters

Commissioner Neukrug focused his talk on the use of green infrastructure as the best and most environmentally friendly way to keep sewage water from overflowing the city’s piping system and ending up in the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. He contrasted this with increasing the sewer capacity, which is a much less green solution than preventing the water from entering the sewer in the first place. This all happens because of combined sewer overflow, which occurs during heavy rain events when rain water overflows the combined sanitary and storm sewer systems and is diverted directly into local waterways.

Some of the green infrastructure improvements both proposed and implemented by the city of Philadelphia and mentioned by commissioner Neukrug included permeable pavements, local gardens situated on vacant lots in the city, rain gardens, and green roofs. He showed that many of these improvements had already been made in the city, such as at the Mill Creek Farm, the Mill Creek Playground, and the new Kensington High School.

In addition to these improvements, he mentioned how using an integrated approach to managing water by integrating land use, infrastructure, and water, can greatly benefit the community as a whole by decreasing runoff and impermeable surfaces and increasing the amount of green space in the community. Overall, I felt that Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug was a great keynote speaker and was very informative and enlightening about new ways of thinking about water related infrastructure.”

Kiana Morse was also taken by Commissioner Neukrug’s talk:

“My favorite speaker at the 2012 Northeast Convention was Howard Neukrug, the Water Commissioner for Philadelphia. It soon became clear that he was very knowledgeable about the storm water systems in Philadelphia. During his presentation, Neukrug talked about his plan for green roof projects in the city. I found his ideas to be fascinating and inspiring. I loved how he was so determined to turn Philadelphia into a cleaner, greener city, and to make the storm water system more efficient in such creative ways. After hearing him talk about his plans, I could definitely see myself working on a project like that when I graduate.

Image from Commissioner Neukrug's talk on green infrastructure to manage stormwater.

Image from Commissioner Neukrug’s talk on green infrastructure to manage storm water.

I am a first year student and was therefore unfamiliar with Engineers Without Borders. I am so glad that I made the decision to attend the conference. I learned so much about the club from what their goal as an organization is, down to specific details on how they get their work done. The conference showed me the strength of Engineers Without Borders, and demonstrated just how much its members are capable of doing.”

SUNY ESF EWB Vice President Ana Flores selected a different talk:

“As engineers, professional or young we look for ways to have a successful project. At the Northeastern Regional Conference many speakers shared their secrets on how to be successful while implementing a project abroad. All though they were all great suggestions, Mr. Funjweng Godlove of U of Delaware EWB  hit home on one of the most important components to implementing a successful project. His secret is having a strong relationship with your in country partners, the community. He was one of the only speakers I felt did a great job on not only presenting but also sharing his personal experiences and engaging the audience. For those who missed this presentation, he spoke about the importance of understanding the culture of your partners. This relationship can make or break your project.

As engineers we tend to forget about this part and work hard reviewing our design to make sure it’s flawless. We prepare to go down to our community where the project is by learning how to assemble the biosand filter or whatever our project may be, making a schedule to make sure we get the most done during our short visit. However, like Mr. Godlove mentioned, if this is the only thing we do to prepare our project wont be successful. We need to take time to learn about their culture, how they communicate, and gain their trust. We don’t know how roles work in their community and if one person takes charge and speaks for everyone else, which is why we need to gain everyone’s trust to be able to talk to everyone separately to hear what they truly think is the problem in their community and how to solve it.

Mr. Godlove gave us examples of a time he and some students traveled down the Cameroon and the trouble they ran into for joining in a political rally not knowing thinking it was a festival of some sort. Not taking time to understand how things work, a simple mistake that anyone could have done but could have led to huge problems. Overall, being the last presenter and everyone being tired from the long great day of sessions, Mr. Godlove did an amazing job with not only keeping us awake but also entertained, ending the session with a song in his native tongue, teaching us that speaking isn’t the only form of communication.