Monday February 29, 2016

Engineering a Better World

In 14 years and in 20 nations, with the support of 38 partners, nearly 300 University of Dayton students have found a new meaning for engineering: ETHOS.

It all started with engineering students working with the Aprovecho Research Center in Oregon to develop cleaner cooking stoves and heating systems in developing nations. You see, around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using wood, charcoal, coal, dung and crop wastes on open fires or traditional stoves that produce high levels of indoor air pollution. According to the World Health Organization, about 4.3 million people die in a year from exposure to this pollution.

With that in mind, the student engineers sought to go beyond themselves to serve humanity using their engineering skills to find what they believe to be the true ETHOS of engineering. 

And thus, ETHOS was born.

Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service learning (ETHOS) challenges students to think creatively and independently to weave together technology, environmental ethics, social responsibility and cultural sensitivity. ETHOS seeks to provide experiential learning through service internships, student organization activities, collaborative research and hands-on classroom projects. Such experiences expose students to alternative technologies based on science and engineering principles that also have tangible impacts on improving the lives of others.

"ETHOS is a vital part of who we are as a Catholic, Marianist university and School of Engineering," said Dean Eddy Rojas. "It has grown significantly from a project to a program, and it’s now time to double down and transform ETHOS into a center where we can offer more support and opportunities to students."

You can find our ETHOS students on four continents during 10-week immersions helping communities build sustainable farms, clean water systems and wind farms as well as installing solar refrigerators to preserve vaccines, solar sterilization units for medical supplies and cleaner burning solar cookers.

Students also can participate in 10-day or weekend projects to get a taste of an immersion trip.

One of the newest immersions is in the Commonwealth of Dominica. Started two summers ago, students worked with a coconut oil production facility to reduce waste and increase production. They successfully found uses for byproducts and improved the daily yield of oil by altering the ratio of coconut milk to water.

"The technical work that we, as college students, were able to accomplish was extremely significant and taught us how to not only be better engineers, but to work in an unfamiliar place. The friendships we made and kept as well as the benefits from the summer will stay with me and the rest of the group forever, shaping who we are and what we become," said Mariana Lopes, a student participating in the 2014 immersion to Dominica.

Future groups headed to the Caribbean island will look to improve the speed of production and oil filtration.

But it hasn't been all work and no play in Dominica. ETHOS supported a fun Dominica Manufacturers' Association Coconut Cheese Competition to help boost the association's goal to industrialize and commercialize coconut products for sustainable economic growth and prosperity.

"I consider the ETHOS program to be one of the best experiences available to college students," said student Thomas Bennett, who joined Lopes on that first trip to Dominica. "This experience not only sets you apart as an engineer from your peers, but it is life changing and will allow you to grow as an individual in ways you did not know were even possible."

These life-changing experiences are only possible with the support of many sponsors and donors. One of those supporters is Lynton Scotland, a 1984 chemical engineering graduate and member of the University's board of trustees who was instrumental in launching the project in his native Dominica.  

"I am so proud of the students, and how they represented UD and demonstrated the University's motto of LEARN, LEAD, SERVE. They were able to make meaningful and significant contributions to the local coconut industry. But they also really made an effort to explore the island, which I feel shows the essence of of the type of student we have, one who works toward cultural understanding," Scotland said. "Likewise, the people and government of Dominica enthusiastically supported the program. It has benefited both our students and the people of Dominica."

The impact and contributions continued even when the students returned to Dayton.

"Right after the students left last year, Hurricane Erika hit Dominica," Scotland said. "One of the parents of the students called saying their son fell in love with the island, and they wanted to know what they could do to help."

Rojas sees big things on the horizon for ETHOS as it becomes a center, including developing more projects closer to home in the Dayton community.

To explore ways you can help ETHOS grow and provide students opportunities to develop and use their engineering skills for humanitarian purposes and to serve others through practical engineering knowledge while learning about the world, different cultures and themselves, contact the ETHOS Center at 937-229-2306.

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