Global Engineering Conference 2014 in Panama by Kelcy Adamec

Design Global, Engineer Local (DGEL) was definitely worth the vacation days. DGEL is a one-week course about the role of engineering in sustainable development.Course lecture led by Dr. Bernard Amadei, founder of EWB-USA, wrapped around the ASCE Global Engineering Conference. We gathered in Panama for the event to celebrate the centennial of the Panama Canal. The experience was truly special and I very much appreciate the North East Region’s help getting me there.

Image 1 - Pensar

Art installation in Panama’s City of Knowledge, where much of the DGEL course was hosted.

ASCE paired with the Panama Canal Authority to bring canal-centric sessions to the ASCE conference portion. The DGEL course lectures put EWB-relevant thought leaders in front of a room. We took an exclusive tour of the Panama Canal expansion construction site. The course concluded with a field trip, where I was able to visit a Peace Corps project.

Image 2 - Canal Construction with Bernard

Me with Bernard Amadei at the Panama Canal expansion construction site.

What kind of people attend an EWB course (or an ASCE conference) in Panama? Awesome people. Everyone attended expecting to learn. Busy people who may not have made time for a course in Colorado gathered in Panama to experience something new. A case can be made that the best track of a conference is the hallway track. Outside of the course and conference sessions, I spoke to people about EWB as an avenue for project-based learning and growth, the responsibility you have to your community as a chapter or an NGO, project failures in developing countries, women in engineering, unstable governments, corruption, engineering education, the merits of leading by example, and many other topics with interesting people who made the “hallway track” great.

Image 3 - Peace Corps

I had the opportunity to see a Peace Corps water project in action on the field trip.

As far as course content, I strongly recommend Bernard Amadei’s latest book, Engineering for Sustainable Human Development: A Guide to Successful Small-Scale Community Projects. Much of Dr. Amadei’s lecture content is reflected in this book. In his book, Dr. Amadei condenses an extensive body of research and vast experience drawn from his own work in developing countries as well as exposure to EWB at the highest level. If you are involved with an EWB project, I promise you will learn something you can use.

For more information, see my tweets from the event at @KelcyAdamec, or search generally for the course hashtag, #DGEL2014. Slides from the October 2014 presentation I gave to the Portland Maine Professional Chapter on this event are available to download from If you are interested in a similar experience, keep an eye out for potential future EWB courses. With any luck, EWB-USA will run more and they will be even better after feedback from DGEL 2014.

Image 4 - Canal and Miraflores

A ship moving through the Panama Canal’s Miraflores locks.

Global Engineering Conference 2014 in Panama by Thomas John Decker


The Design Global Engineer Local course was an experience I will cherish and draw from for the rest of my life. I gained invaluable insight into the progression and establishment of development projects and took on a new prospective of how students participate in such projects. I appreciated the depth of knowledge provided through the course instructors and the diversity of which they represented. The course was tailored to the many different interests within the participant pool which allowed the course to address a wide array of project topics, a feat not commonly achieved through courses at the university level. In addition, the combination of course work and networking allowed for the sharing of ideas on the personal level and promoted the discussion of controversial topics that may not have otherwise been addressed. In the end, the course expanded my engineering, cultural, social, professional, and communication skills and will allow me to be more successful in future development projects. I appreciate the Northeast’s region support in my travels to Panama and am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the course.

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On Friday October 10th, the EWB-USA course participants visited the Panama Canal Locks Expansion project. This panorama shows the immensity of the project and the once in a lifetime experience attendees were able to participate in.


Through the first day I was able to become more familiar to the theory and ideologies behind program/project development and success through community participation. Bernard began through the example of A Way To Wealth by Ben Franklin to show how progression may find a pathway for success. I learned about the GNH or gross national happiness (GNH), the idea of wealth enhancement rather than poverty reduction, sustainable community development (SCD), and that risk can be defined through certain parameters. I learned that the household is the basic unit of a community and of the different examples of projects that failed due to the inconsideration of a common community activity.

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On Friday October 11th, a portion of the EWB-USA Panama course attendees visited the communities of San Francisco and Kuna Nega. This picture displays a section of the community with a landfill being operated in the backdrop. EWB-Panama is hard at work to bring both communities a reliable source of water via a gravity fed distribution system.

I’ve been more and more intrigued by the idea of design by doing which appeals to not knowing what you do not know. Not knowing makes engineering a mystery and increases the challenge which in some instances cannot be solved without failure. Touching on this concept in the first day shows that development work is not going to be perfect and although failure is most likely to occur, project success can be seen as how well the team and community was able to overcome the failure.

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The opening plenary of the ASCE Conference started a week of excitement and learning filled with presentations of Giga-projects, lessons learned, and international engineering projects that have improved the world.

The first thing that I have thought a lot about concerning day two was the idea of the tree diagram: having root causes, main problems, and impacts or implications. I like the idea of representing causal relationships in terms of a diagram that students can easily understand. In the past, there have been issues in engineering where students struggle to fully understand what deeper issues could be or that there are even deeper issues present in partner communities. The tree diagram is able to display that possibility. I’ll be presenting at the national conference and I think I’ll be able to use this as a point in my talk along with the participatory exercise using post its to engage community members in sharing ideas concerning problems, root causes to those problems, and resulting impacts.

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Lando Roberts of SoCore Energy co-led the Energy Pathway for the EWB-USA Panama course and taught students both theoretical and practical methods for energy projects in the developing world. Here participants are learning the correct usage and importance of multimeters.

Early in the third and last day of the course, Bernard used the phrase “people develop themselves”. I believe that this statement rings true. Even in my own life I have had to push myself to go outside the boundaries to make sure that I succeed and progress past the normal or status quo. In my project, I have to remind myself to remember this point. We are there as project partners to encourage development but cannot force the community to change. We can present the benefits or implications of development and hope that motivation is inert in their minds. Without motivation from the community and if during appraisal the motivation is not present, then a project may not be successful.

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On the field experience trip to Kuna Nega, Panama, EWB-Panama and EWB-University of Pittsburgh was hard at work coordinating the construction of pipeline and a water storage tank. Note Bernard, the founder of EWB-USA, in the background admiring the work done to partner with the community to achieve potable water.

Another concept was the idea of community capacity. For example, an earthquake that hit Haiti and Chile with the same magnitude presented entirely different results. Differing capacities led to 300,000 deaths in Haiti and only 500 Chileans. Chile had the infrastructure and pathways to reduce risk and vulnerability where the Haitian development was lacking. Within a development project, capacity is difficult to change. Capacity is what leads to success.

Northeast Regional Conference Blog Post by Baxter Miatke (University of Vermont Student Chapter)

Attending the EWB Northeast Regional Conference was a great opportunity. All of the keynote speakers were great and inspirational. They reminded me why I joined EWB in the first place; to help people. Our chapter has been trying to get a new project application underway and I feel it is important to remind our members that the point is not just to travel, but to actual make a difference for others. The conference not only reminded of this important fact, but also gave me the tools to make our chapter better and set us up for success with our new project. The breakout sessions taught me about planning, assessment, monitoring, and evaluation and showed me the tools EWB-USA has online to guide us through the paperwork process. In addition to the informative breakout sessions, I was also able to meet with our state representative and members from other chapters in our region. These connections are important for our chapter and help us as we start our new project.

The most memorable session at the conference was How to Network by Sam Vaghar. It gave me the most personal improvement for making those important connections. As a small chapter, I thought we were at a disadvantage, but Sam reminded me that size doesn’t matter, but the quality of the members that we do have. I have already put his advice to action and reached out to the leaders in the community we are working with to introduce myself and our project. I plan on continuing to spread our project to everyone I can and not be afraid to talk to anyone. This session and all the sessions at the conference inspired me to go back to my chapter and share my experiences and help make our chapter successful. Thank you to everyone for this opportunity, it was a great weekend!

Northeast Regional Conference Blog Post by Matt Bechtel (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Student Chapter)

“They are not at all like us, they are us.” This was how Dr. Glen Geelhoed answered a question about his work with rural Africans during his keynote at the Engineers Without Borders Northeast Regional Conference at Rutgers University. This attitude of global unity and community was shared by many students and professionals at the conference, but making that feeling a reality can be incredibly challenging. It has been extremely rewarding for me to develop the ability to look at other people, and instead of differentiating myself, seeing that deep down, I am just like them. Personal conviction and commitment are powerful tools on an individual level, but it’s a bigger game when it comes to galvanizing an industry of engineers. When hundreds of dedicated students and professionals gather for a weekend focused on sustainable, community-driven, and humanitarian engineering, great things can happen – many of you know that and have been a part of it at some point in your life. But how might more engineers do “Engineers Without Borders” kind of work more of the time? Could it be that while the engineering field is responsive to and accommodating of economic demands, it is not so sensitive to demands of the community? I wonder if engineers here, and throughout the world could place a higher value on community when designing. The future might look brighter if engineers can regard their responsibilities “without borders,” and take into account those unintended consequences of their projects and plans, those that stretch even beyond the artificial barriers of countries and economies, and into the health a social well-being of the communities they so tangibly impact.

Working internationally, a difficulty in helping others can be defining whose definition of “need” is serving as the basis for modes of thinking. When installing new facilities, wells, pumps, and infrastructure elements around the world, community lifestyle has been one of the number one design factors in successful projects. “Make it like it’s always been there” was the encouragement of Greg Sauter, EWB-USA’s president-elect. Often engineering solutions that are designed without regard to community structure fail or cause unfairness because they alter the existing social structure in the community. This principle isn’t only relevant in humanitarian engineering, but global markets as well. Rewiring people to use/move/consume more can result in greater level of unfairness, and less distributive justice throughout varying societal groups.

EWB-USA has leadership that gets it. It seems that innovating too quickly, and the unintended consequences that can come alongside, are almost more dangerous than those of innovating too slowly. My experience with EWB-USA thus far has been humbling, galvanizing, and inspiring. As I look around me, I am hopeful of what this generation can do to better the human experience both here in the United States, and globally throughout the world.

Northeast Regional Conference Blog Post by Allison Wood (University of New Hampshire Student Chapter)

The 2013 Northeast Regional Conference was an INCREDIBLE experience. The atmosphere created when hundreds of EWB members congregate is pretty indescribable, and certainly inspiring. Personally, this conference acted as a catalyst for my interest and involvement with EWB- seeing the projects other chapters are working on gave me a clearer understanding of how effective EWB-USA is as a whole. 

Dr. Glenn Geelhold, a keynote speaker, travels the world as part of the organization “Mission to Heal”, and was able to relate his experiences to EWB projects. Dr. Geelhold discussed one of the main goals of an EWB project: sustainability. He spoke about other volunteer organizations, and stressed his hope for EWB to continue to stand apart, not making their mistakes. It is important that the projects we complete are sustainable, benefiting the communities for many years after the 5-year project period. He also spoke of technology in general, which can sometimes be harmful in societies which are labor-driven, eliminating jobs and subsequently pride. Thinking that we know what will be best for a community is very dangerous, and is something all chapters need to be careful of when starting a project. Dr. Geelhold used the quote “The whole world needs to be a nail to my hammer”, to explain that just because a solution seems like the right one to an outsider, does not mean it should be implemented. This is something all EWB chapters need to continue to consider heading into the future.

One significant concept I took away from the conference was the idea that member retention is linked to personal purpose. Having served as Secretary of the UNH chapter this past year, I’ve seen the way attendance varies over time. At the conference it was stressed to me that in order to keep students involved in a chapter, each must feel as though he/she is a key contributor to the group. It was recommended that chapters track attendance closely, and shoot members an email if they miss a few meetings to check in, and to let them know they are missed. This concept is something I hadn’t thought much of before the conference, but now recognize is an integral part of a successful project. I would encourage all chapters to make sure each member has a real purpose with the project, and feels as though his/her contribution is necessary for the project to succeed.

Northeast Regional Conference Blog Post by Nathan Roscoe (University of Maine Student Chapter)

This is a much needed post of my awesome experience I was #blessed to have at the Northeast regional EWB conference. I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but this conference changed a lot about the way I look at things and act within my own EWB chapter. As I just joined our EWB chapter this semester, I was still getting the hang of things. But at the conference, I had the opportunity to hear all the amazing speakers talk about everything from crowd sourcing, developing countries, non-profit, and EWB itself really gets you pumped up. It energizes you and gets you in the spirit that words can’t explain. My group also met with our state rep who is super nice and so helpful. A picture of us with him along with other pictures of the conference. The conference was an experience! Much fun! so experience! I learned so much about how EWB works and I would recommend this to anyone interested in Engineers Without Borders, no matter who new you are.🙂

Northeast Regional Conference Blog Post by Stephanie Emore (Carnegie Mellon University Student Chapter)

Fresh off three weeks of winter break – glorious days of sleep, relaxation, and minimal pressure – I am more than ready to tackle the spring semester. That being said, I know it’s not going to be easy. A course-load that may or may not be considered a bit crazy, long hours at work, and of course, Engineers Without Borders. Going to the Conference felt like a spark. It clicked. The light bulb turned on. I had an epiphany! Whatever you want to call it, I was inspired. Let me count the ways.

THE SEEDS: International Projects

One thing I noticed was that the majority, if not all, of the chapters represented were centered around international projects. I had the opportunity to talk to a group of students from a number of different chapters, most of which stated that they had two or three ongoing projects.

Now, I was impressed. At the time, we were on the tail end of our project in India, with about four ideas for projects that we didn’t have nearly enough information on to make a decision. It made me realize that it’s doable. If other students like us, some more experienced and established, were doing it, why shouldn’t we be able to?

I presented this insight to my chapter executive board, and we are currently in the process of getting three new international projects running.

THE NUTRITION: Organization

Of course, new international projects mean more than finding a sustainable engineering solution and successfully implementing it. It means organization. Organization and paperwork and structure that I didn’t have a great handle on. As Vice President of Finance for my chapter, I knew that it was my responsibility to make sure that we had the appropriate funds.

Having never been involved in an international project, suffice to say I had no idea where to start. I had some names, some email addresses, web links, and the password to view our financial reports. I did research on my own, learned some……and added to my list of questions. What next?

The Working Lunch with State Reps was probably one of the highlights of my entire conference experience. It was a comfort to realize that others were just as lost as I was, or at least had similar questions. Like, is there a better way to get updates on our accounts? Or, what should we do if we also have outside accounts? Ben Zaczek, the West Pennsylvania State Representative, kept saying “ask me anything”. It may not seem like much, yet it seemed as if the gates to all the answers were unlocked, and all I had to do was walk forward.


And walk forward I did. Since the end of conference, I have reached out to Ben, previous chapter officers, and relevant members of the campus community. Over the last several weeks, I have been compiling any and all information related to the finances of my chapter in an effort to facilitate operations. I hope to use this to make us better prepared as we embark upon this New Year.

With preparation and planning, it becomes possible to nurture the idea that not only do we work with and support communities, but we also have the unique opportunity to grasp, learn, and absorb ideas that could stay with us as we continue to grow.

I will continue to volunteer with EWB-USA because time doesn’t stop just because you’re not sure where you’re going. Life doesn’t care if you flounder about unsure of where the current will take you. Conference for me was the whisper of change in the air. It brought me focus and purpose. Maybe some of you heard the same. Either way, I will continue – more settled, more confident, and more passionate.


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