Expanding a Village's Access to Water

Dynamic duo in the School of Computing and Engineering reflects on service trip to Panama
Engineers without Borders mentor, George White Jr. in conversation with civil engineering student and president of Engineers without Borders at UMKC, Jewel Janke

The heart of UMKC is our campus community. With small class sizes and lots of opportunities, it’s easy to develop student mentorship teams. And these rich relationships—our Dynamic Duos—are some of our best success stories.

Jewel Janke, a senior civil engineering student and president of the UMKC chapter of Engineers Without Borders, arrives at the engineering lab before George White Jr. (B.S.C.E. '13), mentor for Engineers without Borders. She mentions she hasn’t seen White since their trip to the Panama province of Coclé in January, but when he enters so does a familiar vibe that comes from traveling nearly 11,000 miles together.

In previous trips, Engineers Without Borders designed and implemented a system that delivers water from the source (a natural spring) to the village’s center. This year’s trip was to assess the best route to build a line off the existing system that would allow 10 more families (approximately 75 people) access to water year-round. During the three-to-four months that make up the dry season, those villagers hike, almost daily, to the source and carry as much water back as they can.

“The stress that hiking miles for water puts on a family. That’s the pressure point Engineers Without Borders is trying to alleviate.” George White Jr.

Speaking to the challenging nature of that hike White says, “I’m talking mountains, some people think differently, but I’m calling them mountains. It was up and down, up and down. Some rugged terrain.”

Although Janke wouldn’t call them mountains she concedes that it was “really, really hilly.”

“Extremely hilly,” White interjects.

George White Jr. and Jewel Janke laughing together in engineering lab
Photo by Brandon Parigo

Since becoming involved with Engineers Without Borders last summer, White, a lead civil/site engineer at Black & Veatch and director-at-large for the School of Computing and Engineering Alumni Association Board, has hit his stride with the group saying, “With data gathered during the last trip, I’ve been able to utilize some of my skills to help the students.” It was a happy coincidence that White has previous experience in plumbing since most of the system is made up of plastic PVC pipes, storage tanks and valves.

His favorite thing about working with the students? "...Seeing their ingenuity in action. For example, working to communicate efficiently with the people we are serving Panama or figuring out the technical details of the design, there is always a problem to solve," White says.

One thing the two happily agree on is the sense of camaraderie that was a hallmark of the trip.

Sharing experiences over dinner each evening with the group was one of White's favorite memories. Janke recalls one special dinner at Maria Nicolasa's house, president of the water committee, that overlooks the jungle in Panama. "We had spent the day surveying the extension. Many of us discovered blisters on our feet when we finally had the opportunity to sit down and take our shoes off. We were in two groups that day so we caught each other up on what we'd been doing and relaxed. It was the perfect end to a long day," Janke remembers.

Clockwise from top right: George White in Panama, villager in Panama at water spout, group photo in Panama of SCE students who went on the trip, students working on water tanks in Panama

Right now, students are designing the new branch of the system. Once approved by the national Engineers Without Borders chapter, the next trip will involve trenching and building. Although Janke graduates in May, she looks forward to seeing the project completed in the next several years.

Want to help build the next leg of the water system?

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Learn more about School of Computing and Engineering

Published: Apr 26, 2019

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