Archive for June, 2019

ESF Grand Challenges Scholars Program scholar, Elliott Carlson, presents their talent competency on project experience in Marichaj, Guatemala.  They explain how a research perspective helps advance engineering solutions to pressing problems affecting sustainability.  Project partners include non-profit organization Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and research supervisor, Swiatoslav Kaczmar PE.  The Grand Challenge addressed in this competency is Provide Access to Clean Water. The project report is online here.

The EWB student chapter at ESF was tasked with designing a water distribution system for a rural community in the highlands of Guatemala.  Due to both the unique physical and atmospheric conditions of the area, the community experienced multiple months of no rain, commonly referred to as the dry season. During this period of the year, the community was required to walk roughly 5 kilometers in order to reach their water source.  During the wet season, the community used rainwater catchment systems, installed on each dwelling, to collect water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking (Figure 1).  Our team worked closely with community members and non-profit organizations in order to determine the best solution to the problem.  Our goal was to provide water to the community during the 3-4 months of the dry season.

Figure 1. Example of rainwater catchment system installed on a home in the Marichaj community

At the start of the project, a team of five students and one mentor traveled to meet the community members and collect much needed information for the design.  This included collecting GPS data points, conducting community surveys, and getting a general idea of problem.  During our trip, the community showed us a stream that they were hoping to use as the source of water.  This stream was fed by a spring higher up in the mountains and would be ideal starting point for the water pipeline.  The group hiked the route of the proposed pipeline: down the stream, across a valley, and back up to the community (Figure 2).  Any engineering design takes into account all possible alternatives.  Therefore, the team developed plans to investigate three alternatives: the spring, groundwater, and expansion of the current rainwater system.

Figure 2. Elliott Carlson (bottom right), EWB team, and community members at the source of the spring

Upon returning from the assessment trip, the student team broke up into three groups to explore the three alternatives.  My group was tasked with expanding the rainwater catchment system.  This method of water collection was familiar to the community members.  This method would require an increase in catchment surface area, installation of water storage, and the development of a disinfection method.  In order to provide during the dry season, roughly 2 million liters of water would need to be collected and stored during the wet season.  This number was calculated using the community size of 500 people, the average dry season length of 100 days, and the United Nations per capita water demand of 30 liters.  Additionally, a factor of safety of 30 percent was added to account for variability and community population increase.

The catchment area under consideration that would provide for the calculated demand were the roofs of the community’s school and church.  The school’s roof was measured to be 2500 square feet and the church 1200 square feet.  This would provide a total area of 3700 square feet of additional rainwater catchment surface area.  Using both the volume required and the available square feet, it was determine that 19 feet of rainfall would need to fall during the wet season in order to provide for the dry season.  Unfortunately, the average annual rainfall was found to be roughly 7.5 feet using information gathered from TRMM rainfall data.  With this being the case, the rainfall catchment area would need to be larger than what was available in the community.  The rainwater catchment and storage alternative did not seem to be the best option.  However, it was not eliminated due to the potential for it to be paired with another alternative.  The rainwater catchment system did indeed meet the design goal of providing the community with additional water.  However, the rainwater catchment design alone would not suffice.  This design could be paired with a piping system that distributed water from a nearby spring.  Alternatively, the rainwater catchment system could be paired with a system that pumps from a nearby groundwater source.  An investigation into nearby springs and groundwater sources would need to be further developed in order to determine the best alternative or combination of alternatives.

ESF Grand Challenges Scholars Program scholar, Elliott Carlson, presents their business / entrepreneurship competency on workshop experience in Rochester, New York.  They explain how a business / entrepreneurship perspective helps advance engineering solutions to pressing problems affecting sustainability.  Workshop partners include the University of Rochester Hajim School GCSP Director Emma Derisi and ESF GCSP Director Dr. Ted Endreny PE.  The Grand Challenge addressed in this competency is Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure.

The City of Rochester faces a problem that many cities throughout the Unites States is facing.  A lack of affordable housing for its lower income residents is causing a rise in homelessness in urban areas.  In an effort to combat this rise, organizations have been developed to tackle the issue of homelessness in Rochester area.  This aid comes in the form of land trusts, shelters, and other social programs fighting for an increase in the availability of affordable housing.  In addition, there exists governmental programs that work to fill the ever increasing gap.

The NAE GCSP Design Thinking Workshop at the University of Rochester provided the opportunity to gain a first-hand experience learning more about those experiencing homelessness in Rochester the area.  At the workshop, NAE scholars met with local community partners to learn more about the steps that have been taken to tackle such a challenging issue.  My group had the chance to meet with Allie Dentinger, the Director and Co-Founder of the organization Supports on the Streets.  As an outreach team, the organization works to connect with those facing homelessness and works hard to meet their needs.

Figure 1. Elliott Carlson collaborating with team members during the prototype stage of the design thinking process

Students in attendance were provided with the opportunity to apply their knowledge using the design thinking process.  This is a multistep human-centered design process that encourages a focus on the user.  The steps include: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.  Following these steps ensures the final product or service is properly designed for the end user.  For example, Supports on the Streets empathizes with those facing homelessness in order to better define the issues faced.  This is a cruicial first step when attempting to find a solution to a problem.  Using this topic, student groups worked together to come up with ideas, or ideate, as to how the previously identified problem could be solved.  Close to a hundred ideas were generated within each group due to the creative conversation and energy generated at the workshop.  Following the brainstorm, ideas were condensed and combined with each iteration until a final, overarching solution was produced.  Using the final design, the business model canvas was used to identify key partners, activities, and resources as well as costs / revenue associated with the final design.  Most importantly, the relationship with the customer was identified using information gathered throughout the design process, from start to finish.

In addition to viewing the user as the beneficiary of the design, any investors or funders must also be considered.  In order to have a sustainable initiative, be that combatting homelessness, some amount of financial support will be needed.  In order to receive the necessary support, incentives must be woven into the design process.  Doing so, ensures a strong design that includes a strong business plan.  However, basing one’s design fully on said business plan isn’t always the best for sustainability.  A balance should be established between the design and the business plan, neither one relying heavily on the other.  Through my involvement in the Design Thinking Workshop, I’ve come to understand the necessity of a viable business model when it comes to implementing a solution.  The earlier on in the design process the business model is considered, the more integrated it will be.  Additionally, the business plan will have a greater effect on the sustainability of the chosen final design.


ESF Grand Challenges Scholars Program scholar, Elliott Carlson, presents their social consciousness competency on project experience in Arcahaie, Haiti.  They explain how a socially conscious perspective helps advance engineering solutions to pressing problems affecting sustainability.  The Grand Challenge addressed in this competency is Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure.

The proper management of solid waste is an integral part of maintaining human health, safety, and the quality of the environment.  Currently, wastes in Haiti are poorly managed through the use of the unregulated Truitier Landfill, near the country’s capital.  As the population of Haiti continues to grow, the quantity of waste produced also increases.  A change in the way wastes are managed will improve quality of life and environmental conditions.

SUNY Global plans to develop the Sustainable Village and Learning Community (SVLC) in Arcahaie, Haiti.  This satellite campus would be home to a variety of SUNY colleges and serve as an educational hub for the community.  A partnership between SUNY and local non-profit organizations would create opportunities for empowered Haitians to make social and economic change through education.  Currently, the site planned for the SVLC has very little development and has been used as a dumping ground for municipal solid waste (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Current condition of Sustainable Village Learning Community site in Arcahaie, Haiti

In the final year of the Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) major, students are required to work in a group to complete a senior capstone project.  My team was tasked with developing a waste management plan for the SVLC.  Using our best engineering judgement and information both provided and researched, we worked to determine the best method of managing both construction and operational wastes.  The final design was determined by analyzing all considered alternatives based on the previously set forth performance criteria.  A large part of this process included assessing each alternative based on the three pillars of sustainability; economic, social, and environmental.  In addition, we used the knowledge gained from the ERE 468 course, Solid and Hazardous Waste Engineering.

Throughout the research and design process our team was in contact with local community organizations who had knowledge of the current conditions and operations.  Using this knowledge, we looked to create partnerships with organizations who have previously instituted initiatives regarding solid waste management.  For example, Plastic Bank and Haiti Recycling supports the Ramase Lajan program.  This initiative enables locals to collect plastic bottles from their community and return them in exchange for monetary compensation.  Not only are Haitians provided with a source of income, they are improving the quality of their community.  These collection facilities are located throughout the country and are typically created from retrofitted shipping containers (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Example of a Ramase Lajan plastic bottle collection facility in Haiti

Understanding the community dynamic in which you are working is imperative when developing appropriate engineering designs.  As engineers, we aim for our designs to be as sustainable as possible.  Through understanding the social, economic, and environmental issues faced in a community, an engineer can better design in order to solve interdisciplinary problems.  By engaging in a collaborative engineering design process, my senior capstone team was able to recommend the best method of managing solid waste at the SVLC Haiti site.  Additionally, through the development of community partnerships, the SVLC will take on a socially conscious perspective to not only advance engineering solutions but improve sustainability within Haiti.

ESF Grand Challenges Scholars Program scholar, Elliott Carlson, presents their multidisciplinary competency on project experience in Vieques, Puerto Rico.  They explain how a multidisciplinary perspective helps advance engineering solutions to pressing problems affecting sustainability.  The Grand Challenge addressed in this competency is Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure.

When Hurricane Maria made landfall only two weeks after Hurricane Irma, the Caribbean islands were not prepared.  The island of Puerto Rico is home to FEMA’s Caribbean Distribution Center, the islands’ only emergency stockpile of supplies.  The warehouse was 83% depleted with 90% of water supplies and 100% of tarps and cots deployed after Hurricane Irma.  As the category 4 hurricane made landfall, 80,000 still remained without power.  This number, along with the number of casualties, would only increase due to lack of preparedness and post disaster support.

Vieques is a small island municipality, off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico.  It was also severely impacted during the 2017 storms.  The island experienced flooding, power outages, and infrastructure damage.  In addition, the island’s population experienced scarcities in their potable water supply.  Receiving very little aid from either the federal or Puerto Rican government, the community of Vieques was on their own to recover in the weeks following the hurricane.  To do so, key community members stepped forward to help lead the recovery process.  They worked to ensure that fellow community members were safe and provided with the necessary assistance.  Moving forward, the community hopes to design a more sustainable Vieques.  In the event of any future disasters, the island would be better prepared by developing to increase their resiliency, decrease their dependence, and better utilize available resources (Davidson et. al., 2010).

Figure 1. Elliott Carlson (far left) and group meets with Ardelle Negretti to discuss plans regarding the development of Parque la Ceiba de Vieques

In order to implement a sustainable engineering plan, design, or project, one must consider the three pillars of sustainability: economic, social, and environmental.  To best meet these pillars through engineering design, an interdisciplinary systems approach must be adopted.  In order to produce the best design, there must exist a close cooperation among researchers with different yet complementary interests and fields of knowledge.  Studies regarding the development of smart city models show that an interdisciplinary approach is necessary for the successful, effective, and sustainable implementation of the plan (Andrisano et. al., 2018).  Combining both a systems and interdisciplinary perspective leads to better informed engineering design that connects to the environmental, social, and economic sectors.

While in Vieques, the team of students had the opportunity to meet with multiple community leaders who were working to improve their community.  In one meeting, students heard from Ardelle Negretti who shared proposed plans for Parque la Ceiba de Vieques (Figure 1).  The park, located on the northern coast of the island, is home to the more than 300 year old Ceiba tree.  Ardelle and her team are working to further develop the park as a tribute to the people of Vieques.  This coastal area would be used for recreation and relaxation as well as serve as a tribute to the resiliency of both the Ceiba and the people of Vieques.  As our team discussed the plans with Ardelle, many ideas were brought to light.  These included the implementation of green infrastructure and coastal resiliency projects, the potential for environmental and historical education, and the potential for local revenue by increasing eco-tourism.  All of these ideas were brought to light through a conversation with students from many different majors.  Through the use of different yet complimentary fields of knowledge, designs can be created that connect the environmental, social, and economic sectors to best fit the needs of the user.

Figure 2. Elliott Carlson (second from the right) with fellow students and instructors sharing interdisciplinary perspectives on challenges faced by the island of Vieques

The design process of an engineering project is the most critical stage.  It is the easiest point at which changes can be made and functions can be added.  A focus on the design ensures peek economic, environmental, and social performance throughout the project’s life.  Through the involvement of a multidisciplinary team, a well-rounded design can be created to best serve the user.  Additionally, multidisciplinary teams is a cost effective way to increase productivity and reduce negative environmental impacts (Stansinoupolos et. al., 2013).  An example of this includes a small run-of-river hydropower project in Thailand.  The design team faced problems such as lack of accessibility to possible sites, large quantity of data required, and lack of participation from the local community.  Through the use of a multidisciplinary approach, the design team considered engineering, economic, environmental criteria as well as the design’s social impact (Rojanamon et. al., 2009). The team used GIS to find site locations, conducted economic evaluations, defined environmental parameters, and conducted a social impact study all during the design stage of the project.  A design method such as this is applicable in many cases and can be verified by the site selection results.

As we considered our team’s role in the development of a more sustainable Vieques, we addressed the knowledge and information gained from our time on the island.  How can we, as students of various programs at ESF (Figure 2), use what we have learned to aid in the design of a more resilient and sustainable Vieques?  Through the use of an interdisciplinary team, we can connect the environmental, economic, and social sectors of design to best meet the user’s need.  Specific to my major, being provided with a systems perspective allows me to better develop the engineering design.  By bringing together members from different yet complimentary disciplines, designs can be better engineered to meet project goals.  As engineers, it is our duty to produce the best option to best serve its user economically, socially, and environmentally.


Andrisano, O., et. al. (2018). The need of multidisciplinary approaches and engineering tools for the development and implementation of the smart city paradigm. Proceedings of the IEEE. 106(4), 738-760. doi: 10.1109/JPROC.2018.2812836

Davidson, C. I., et. al. (2010). Preparing future engineers for challenges of the 21st century: Sustainable engineering. Journal of Cleaner Production. 18(7), 698-701. doi: 10.1016/J.JCLEPRO.2009.12.021

Stansinoupolos, P., et. al. (2013). Whole System Design: an integrated approach to sustainable engineering. doi: 10.4324/9781849773775

Rojanamon, P., et. al. (2009). Application of geographical information system to site selection of small run-of-river hydropower project by considering engineering / economic / environmental criteria and social impact. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 18(9), 2336-2348. doi: 10.1016/j.rser.2009.07.003

ESF Grand Challenges Scholars Program scholar, Elliott Carlson, presents their multicultural competency on project experience in Boaco, Nicaragua.  They explain how a multicultural perspective helps advance engineering solutions to pressing problems affecting sustainability.  The Grand Challenge addressed in this competency is Provide Access to Clean Water.

In our everyday lives, we do not often think of what our next source of water will be.  We turn on the faucet expecting the water to flow out both steadily and most importantly, clean.  We’ve grown to trust our homes, our towns, or our cities to provide its residents with a reliable source of clean water.  Now, imagine this was not the case.  Many people throughout the world are required to walk miles to their closest water source.  In addition to the distance traveled, the source may be unreliable or even unclean, leading to more time or energy spent obtaining water.

This is somewhat the case at a school on the outskirts of Boaco, Nicaragua.  Located about 20 minutes off the main highway, the schools is not connected to any grid of utilities such as water, sanitation, or electricity.  They rely on hand pumps located throughout the community to extract from the groundwater source.  These pumps require the user to rotate a large wheel in order to raise the water to the surface.  This is a time consuming and energy intensive method to obtain water, especially for the children who attended the school.


Figure 1. Elliott Carlson (left) with Gustavo Reyes PE (right) installing water distribution system

In addition to general academics, the instructors wanted to teach the students about agriculture.  Specially, a method of farming adopted in the region called sustainable mini-farming or biointensive farming.  These methods strive to use the natural resources as efficiently as possible and grow the food naturally.  Methods such as deep soil preparation, composting, companion planting, and carbon farming are adopted.  The instructors at the school also wanted to develop gardens on site where the students would have the opportunity to have hands on learning experience.  In order to successfully develop agricultural plots at the school, the method of water delivery would need to be upgraded.

Figure 2. Construction of the school’s water distribution system to feed agricultural gardens

Conveniently located on site was a well with a hand pump installed.  This pump was upgraded to solar pump to provide a more energy efficient method of transporting the water to the surface.  Additionally, a tank was added to the site in order to provide a water reserve for the school (Figure 1).  The tank would be fed by the solar pump then distributed to the three garden beds through a drip irrigation system (Figure 2).  This system would ensure the tank is consistently filled and the beds are provided enough water to promote growth.  Not only does this water distribution system provide a reliable source of water to the school it also decreases the amount of energy required obtain the water.

By working closely with the local community beneficiaries, our team was able to design and implement a system that would provide the school with reliable clean water.  By adapting the previously used groundwater pumping method, the school is now outfitted with a solar pump, piping, tank, and drip irrigated agricultural beds.  These improvements create an environment for students to have hands on learning opportunities to develop their agricultural skills.  By taking a familiar method of water acquisition and improving it, the community felt comfortable with the new system.  Through the understanding of a different culture, the proposed engineering solution was accepted, implemented, and adopted by the community.