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Pratt & Whitney Engineers Help Communities Meet Their Basic Needs through 'Engineers Without Borders'

By Barbara Bresnahan | Correspondent
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pratt & Whitney employees, through their involvement in Engineers Without Borders, are helping communities meet their basic needs and improve quality of life through implementation of environmentally and economically sustainable engineering projects.

Basic human needs, such as clean drinking water, adequate sanitation and consistent energy supplies are now a reality for over 2.5 million people who have benefitted by the non-profit humanitarian organization since its inception in 2002.

It's through partnerships with Pratt & Whitney and others that the organization's nearly 14,000 members are able to implement projects that address the needs of these communities.

"A significant part of a project is community education," said Emily Porter, Pratt & Whitney mechanical design engineer, who is involved in a water supply project in Sabhung, Nepal that began in 2011. "We will cover water conservation, maintenance and sanitation best practices."

"The community members have to traverse the hillside multiple times a day to reach their water source," said Wei Guo, another Pratt & Whitney team member and Hartford Professional Chapter president. The Engineers Without Borders project will allow water to be lifted from a nearby valley up 1,000 feet to where homes are located via a solar-powered pump.

Pratt & Whitney F135 Deputy Program chief engineer Meggan Harris is involved in a rainwater recollection project for a community of 100 farmers in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

"The rainy season is only a few months out of the year, and the farms are built across miles of hilly regions," said Harris. "In the off season, it is extremely difficult to maintain their livelihoods as well as their food supply." Harris said the project will directly impact how rainwater is stored and redistributed across the farms to effectively extend the benefits.

Pratt & Whitney engineer Michael Reiter mentors the Engineers Without Borders chapter at Worcester Polytechnic Institute for a clean water project in Guachthu'uq, Guatemala. After investing four years in the community, the team is ready to build rainwater collection systems for more homes this May.

"Students get involved because an Engineers Without Borders project is an amazing opportunity, but at the end they realize it was an amazing engineering learning experience, as well," said Reiter.

Many of the mission-driven members of Engineers Without Borders are, in fact, college engineering students who are involved in university chapters.

Porter said, "Some of us worked with Engineers Without Borders or similar groups in college, while others were drawn in here at Pratt."

Also working with college students is a group called Engineers Without Borders Make It Better, which was formed at Pratt & Whitney in 2011 with the goal of uniting Engineers Without Borders professional chapter members, university chapter members and Pratt & Whitney employees.

"This group has worked on making sure local university chapters receive mentorship as they need it," said Pratt & Whitney's Abigail Piva, a supply chain analyst.

Noting the value of hiring a student who has participated in Engineers Without Borders, Frank Preli, chief engineer, Materials & Process Engineering for Pratt & Whitney and member of the National Engineers Without Borders Industrial Advisory Council said, "We not only get someone who is dedicated to community service, but also someone who has developed leadership, project management and teamwork skills."

The overall consensus of Pratt & Whitney Engineers Without Borders chapter members is that the experience is invaluable, both professionally and personally.

"These experiences have helped me gain confidence in my ability to lead a multi-disciplinary team. More importantly, I've gained a new perspective on helping others and making a difference globally," shared Guo. "I thank Pratt & Whitney for allowing me this opportunity."

To learn more about Engineers Without Borders, visit www.ewb-usa.org or the Hartford Professional Chapter at www.ewb-hpc.org. Or, contact any of the volunteers in this article.

Photo Captions

Photo 1: The left photo shows a view atop Pedro's Farm in Nicaragua. A Pratt & Whitney Engineers Without Borders team is working to help build a system to collect rainwater for this and other farms in the community. The right photo shows Sylvestro, a farmer in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, peeling an orange from one of his crops with a machete. Photos by Meggan Harris.

Photo 2: Pratt & Whitney's Wei Guo (standing, center) poses with Engineers Without Borders group members and Sabhung Village locals in Nepal who are part of the community's water committee. The Engineers Without Borders group is working on a pumping station for the villagers, which will save them the 1,000 foot trek up and down the mountainside to haul water to their homes. Photo courtesy of Wei Guo.

Photo 3: Engineers Without Borders Hartford Professional Chapter president Wei Guo surveys hillside landscape in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Wei Guo.

Photo 4: Pratt & Whitney engineer Mike Reiter and Worcester Polytechnic Institute students pose with children from Guachthu'uq, Guatemala. The group was there installing rainwater systems for the community's residents. Photo courtesy of Michael Reiter.

Photo 5: Pratt & Whitney engineer Mike Reiter and students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute evaluate a Guatemalan home for a rainwater collection system. Photo courtesy of Michael Reiter.

Photo 6: Families in Guachthu'uq, Guatemala will benefit from rainwater collection systems being installed in their homes. Photo by Michael Reiter.