CEE students win competition during global poverty initiatives conference
By Debbie Levey
Civil & Environmental Engineering
The Global Poverty Initiative (GPI), a group formed by 40 MIT students including environmental engineering major Connie Lu, organized the Millennium Campus Conference, held at MIT April 18 to 20.
The conference sponsored a Millennium Challenge Competition for student projects that solve drinking water and sewage problems. The first and second-place teams both have civil and environmental engineering student members, again including Lu and M.Eng. students Vanessa Green and Tamar Losleben. Both teams also were advised by CEE senior lecturer Susan Murcott.
The conference brought more than 1,700 students from around the country to campus for three days of discussion on international development. Speakers included U.S. Senator John Edwards, Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health, Grammy winner John Legend, economist Jeffrey Sachs, and Ira Magaziner of the Clinton Global Initiative.
Lu, a freshman who declared CEE her major this spring, described the experience of organizing and working the conference as “exhilarating.”
“Ushering for Paul Farmer was pretty cool and we got front row seats to the John Legend/Jeff Sachs event,” she said. Any large conference includes some stressful moments, “such as missing presenters and keynote speakers lost in Central Square. However, the organizers were amazingly efficient. In the end, we were really proud, and almost a little bit surprised, that we pulled it off.”
Lu helped organize Poverty Showcase Week, held on the four days prior to the conference. She also designed and hand-printed canvas bags that the students sold, and she helped compile the “MIT & Global Development” resource manual that lists MIT student groups, classes, and grants to help students get involved in poverty alleviation.
Green, a CEE M.Eng. student was on the team that won the $2,000 first-place prize in the Millennium Challenge Competition. Working with Murcott, Green and graduate student Kate Clopeck from the Technology and Policy Program faced a muddy, contaminated water supply in northern Ghana. Consulting with the local population, they devised the KasiKom Water Solution to provide affordable clean water and also give village women a source of income. “If the model is successful, it would become the first commercially sustainable community-level household water treatment and safe storage system worldwide, and could provide a model for the scale-up of combined treatment systems throughout the region,” said Green, who will return to work in Ghana after Commencement.
Losleben and Lu worked with graduate student Debmalya Guha of urban studies and planning and Murcott to help a community of 2,500 people living in the Ganges Delta along the India-Bangladeshi border. Forced from their homes by erosion, the Indians relocated to newly formed sand islands, which lack a sewage treatment system.
Relying on local materials and traditional crafts, the MIT group emphasized culturally appropriate solutions in their project, which took the $1,000 second-prize. They are establishing a program to build mobile latrines integrated with a wetlands-aquaculture treatment that will use treated sewage to improve the sandy agricultural land and support a complex ecosystem of fish in nearby ponds. The group expects construction of the system to begin during the dry season in November.