EWB: Global Engineering for Students and Developing Communities

student learning over concrete water system in rural area abroad

Written by Maria Franko, a fourth year student pursuing a BS in Civil Engineering and an MS in Environmental Engineering.

About me

Maria Franko is a fourth year student pursuing a BS in Civil Engineering and an MS in Environmental Engineering with a minor in Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. In addition to serving as the President of Engineers Without Borders, Maria is a Vice President of the Northeastern Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Secretary of Northeastern Chapter of Chi Epsilon. Off campus, Maria enjoys reading, hiking, and visiting historic Boston landmarks.

EWB: Global Engineering for Students and Developing Communities 

I joined the Northeastern University Engineers Without Borders chapter (EWB-USA NEU) fall of my first year. The dual purpose of EWB – helping people meet their basic human needs and providing students with transformative learning experiences – immediately drew me into EWB. Over the past 3.5 years, EWB and its dual mission has had a profound impact on my life. EWB has helped me understand the role of engineers in society, provided me with global opportunities, and enhanced my technical and leadership skills.

Before college, I was ignorant to many of the applications of engineering, especially civil & environmental engineering. Honestly, I didn’t even understand the scope of engineering until my first semester at NEU. I initially chose to enroll in the COE, because I enjoyed STEM and engineering seemed like a practical STEM option. EWB gave context to engineering and helped me decide to study civil and environmental engineering.

As member of EWB-USA NEU’s Uganda Program, I had the opportunity to work on the Bbanda Distribution System, or BDS for short. The BDS provides clean drinking water to a community of over 1,100 people in rural Uganda. As the engineers of the project, EWB-USA NEU members designed and oversaw the construction of the BDS. The BDS, like all other EWB projects, gave students the opportunity to apply their engineering knowledge to real world problems. I spent most of my first year in awe of the older EWB-USA NEU members that worked on the BDS. While I wasn’t busy being wonderstruck by my predecessors’ achievements, I was assessing the feasibility of extending the BDS and preparing for the commissioning of the system.

In the spring of 2015, I was selected to travel to Bbanda as part of the BDS commissioning team. I was beyond thrilled to travel to Uganda, see the project that I had spent a year working on, and meet the community members of Bbanda. Our trip was by no means a vacation. We had long days in the grueling equatorial sun, and late nights recording our data and preparing for the following days. Yet the hard work of the trip in addition to the previous years of work, only made the water seem that much sweeter when we finally commissioned the system on the last day of our trip. The gratitude expressed by the people of Bbanda and the growth I experienced all tied back to EWB’s dual purpose. I was able to experience a culture very different from my own, gain new technical skills, and improve my soft engineering skills; while simultaneously working with the people of Bbanda to provide them with access to clean drinking water.

Since my life changing trip to Bbanda in 2015, I have served as the Trip Lead for a 2016 trip to Bbanda and lead students working on the technical aspects of the BDS as the Uganda Program Design Lead. I am currently serving as the President of EWB-USA NEU for the 2017-2018 academic year.

My role in the organization has shifted over the years. Now, I spend very little time on the technical aspects of the BDS. Instead I oversee all three of EWB-USA NEU’s projects in Honduras, Uganda, and Panama. My team has grown from 20 or so dedicated Uganda program members to over 100 general body members. I now spend my time on grant applications, publications (like our newsletter), external coordination, education of new members, sponsor relationships, and many other administrative responsibilities. EWB has made me a well rounded and experienced engineer. I have done everything from calculating the amount of bleach required to disinfect an entire pipe network, to meeting with the CEOs of prominent companies to discuss financial partnerships.

EWB has helped me grow as an engineer and as a person. EWB has given me the motivation to strive for greatness and the experience necessary to achieve it. I am beyond thankful for all of the people, from alumni to professional mentors, that have made EWB-USA NEU and the work we do possible.

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering