Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology
September 15th, 2015

“Mambo!” This is the most common greeting heard throughout Swahili-speaking Tanzania. In Swahili, it translates directly to “how are you?” But to us, it seems like good way to say “hey!” In response, you’d say “Poa!” or “great!” If you’re doing really well and want to share your enthusiasm, you can say “Poa poa!” From family to friends to strangers on the street, this greeting is shared amongst everybody in Swahili-speaking Tanzania.

“Mambo!” from Arusha, Tanzania, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Our project team is a group of three engineering students from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. We are acting as representatives from our school’s student organization called Engineers and Scientists Abroad, or ESA. Through ESA funding and grants from both Students for a Smarter Planet and Rotary International, we were able to make this trip possible. In this first blog, we’ll discuss our project and how we came to be involved.

Our project guide, Tom, is a member of Rotary International and a retired Peace Corps volunteer who served in Tanzania from 1961 to 1963. He was a member of the very first Peace Corps group to ever be organized by the United States. His contacts from Tanzania alerted us to this project and he suggested that we, as engineering students, use our practical skills to improve water access at a Special Needs School in Arusha. So far in the trip, we’ve met with a number of Tom’s friends and contacts in Tanzania to provide our project the materials and community backing needed to carry out our project plans.


Our project team, from left to right: Kylie, Abbey, an official from an adjoining school, the Ilbrou Special Needs School Principal, the Ilboru Primary School Headmaster, a Tanzanian engineer, Michael, and a local politician who has previously supported Ilboru School. Not pictured: Tom

Speaking of our project plans, we are working on a new water network at the Ilboru Special Needs School. This school is unique in Tanzania because it provides education to special needs students who typically wouldn’t receive an education from the government. Loy, the creator and principal of the school, has made it possible for special needs students to accomplish an education similar to their primary school peers. Even better, this school is located on a primary school campus and allows the special needs students to interact with their primary school peers and play like typical children.

However, between sharing a campus with a primary school and a giant jump in student enrollment, a serious burden has been put on the current water network. School officials have shown us two tanks, one 3,000 liter and one 1,000 liter, which provide water for 1,355 students, primary and special needs, as well as school staff. This means that two full tanks could offer less than 3 liters per student or staff each school day. This amount of available water is hardly sufficient now, and it will not be nearly enough as the school expands.


Special needs students come from far and wide to get access to an education at Ilboru. At present, these students commute daily and are susceptible to dangerous situations during their long commutes. For this reason, a new dorm has been constructed for the special needs students and is awaiting water connection for lavatories and showers. Our water network design will need to provide enough water and enough water pressure to run showers and lavatories in this new dorm. Also, a new two-story classroom building is nearing completion at Ilboru Special Needs School. This classroom building will include also include lavatories, so special needs students and their teachers won’t have their school day interrupted by leaving their classroom building to use the lavatories located at the primary school.


The new dormitory is stocked and students will move in once water is connected


The new classroom building for special needs students is nearing completion. This building will have flushable lavatories and sinks.

So next on our agenda we are going to conduct a land survey to get the elevations of important points in the water network. Once this is completed, we can finalize a tank and pump design to meet the needs of the Ilboru Special Needs and Primary Schools immediately and for the next five years. Stay tuned for our project updates!

-Kylie, Abbey, and Michael

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¿Cachai? It means, Do you get it?, or Do you understand? A phrase often used with foreigners, who quite often, don’t understand, as our Engineers and Scientists Abroad group found out. The Spanish in Chile is different than many other Spanish-speaking countries, full of abbreviations, run-together words, and slang. Nevertheless it was beautiful, as is the culture of Chile, as our Engineers and Scientists Abroad chapter learned after a recent service trip to Chile, during which we provided infrastructure improvements to the Vocations for Orphans nonprofit and learned to somewhat understand the culture of this beautiful country.


The Location

Casa Montaña is located in the Valle de Elqui (Elqui Valley) in the Coquimbo region of Chile. The economy of the area is predominantly agriculture-based, with grapes, lemons, wine and a local liquor called pisco being major products in the area. The project site was nestled up in the gorgeous Andes Mountains, about 12 miles away from the small town of Vicuña.

Casa Montana

Casa Montaña (R. Beck 2015)


The Team

Six engineering students from the South Dakota School of Mines volunteered their time and expertise to making the trip a success. Each student was able to bring valuable skills and expertise to the project team.


Enjoying some empanadas (small pastries stuffed with a savory filling) (A. Schifres 2015)

From left to right:

Sawyer – Mechanical engineering

Colby – Mechanical Engineering

Andrew – Civil Engineering

Gary – Geological Engineering and Mechanical Engineering

Rika – Environmental and Chemical Engineering

Alexis – Chemical Engineering


The Tasks

1. Pour a concrete pad for a water storage tank.


Colby with the freshly-poured concrete pad.

2. Install a water storage tank to increase the capacity of Vocation for Orphans Water System.

Installed Tank

Our installed tank. (A. Schifres, 2015)

 3. Build a retaining wall to protect the tank from erosion.

Retaining Wall

Tank with finished retaining wall. (C. Harris, 2015)

4. Remove and replace the water source intake.

Digging out intake

First, we diverted the water and dug out the old intake. (C. Harris, 2015)

 New intake pipe

Then, we installed the new intake pipe. (C. Harris 2015)

Finished intake

Finally, we covered the new pipe with gravel and larger rocks to protect it. (C. Harris, 2015)

5. Other tasks – the team took care of many other tasks on the project site, including:

         – Painting the source piping to protect it from the elements

- Changing the battery in the vehicle

-Winterizing buildings

Team photo

The team at the conclusion of the project! (Pictured with hosts Annette and Dale.)


The Culture

When all the hard work was done, we also got to experience Chilean culture with a trip to the nearby city of La Serena. We saw the sights, ate fresh seafood, empanadas, and papayas; and bought souvenirs at the local markets.

Chile Market

Artisanal market in La Serena (C. Harris 2015)

Chile lighthouse

Lighthouse of La Serena (R. Beck 2015)

Fish market

Fish market in the port of Coquimbo (C. Harris, 2015)


Port of Coquimbo (R. Beck, 2015)

What We Learned

Our project was enriching for the whole group. We gained valuable experience putting our engineering knowledge into use in the real world. We also got to appreciate the amazing culture and scenery of the country of Chile, while serving others other with our talents.


ESA acknowledges the time and talents of the project team, Dr. Thomas Fontaine, Dale Boe, and Annette Scifres; our partner nonprofit, Vocations for Orphans; and the financial support of Rotary International and IBM (Students for a Smarter Planet Grant).

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July 13th, 2014

Our team has now had one month to regroup, reflect, and relax back into our American lives. The intense experience that was our project in Mongolia has now come to a close, and we are thankful for its impact on our lives. Now we have a few thousand pictures to sift through and memories to laugh about. Thanks to all who helped with our success!

The Argylin Garam Bridge Project













The Team

The Team



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May 9th, 2014


The Engineers and Scientists Abroad of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology is making the final preparations for our travel to Chile! We are so excited to lend a helping hand to the Vacations for Orphans site to improve their way of life. There have been a few big changes over the last few weeks, however, so we have to be ready for new surprises.

Two weeks ago, the orphanage was broken into. Some solar panels, propane tanks, linens, and kitchenware was stolen. This is such unfortunate news, and it may set back the date the orphanage can take children. So now, the engineers-to-be will also be looking for ways to secure new devices to buildings in a more robust way. This is a huge sign that security needs to be enforced in the buildings before more work and technology is put into the facilities.

Another big change is that one of our team members is having some heath issues and can no longer travel with us. We are sad that Katelyn can’t come, but we wish her the best while we are away. We have to take care of ourselves in order to help others.

Tomorrow, we’ll support the graduating students of SDSM&T and see them walk across the stage. Then on Monday, we’ll take our luggage, brainpower, and helping hands to South America! Wish us well!

Thank you IBM for making this trip possible! Photos and summaries to come.

Cat, Trevor, Riley, Christian, and Chris

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May 8th, 2014

Hello once again, from what may be our last blog from the states. With less than a week left until we hop on a plane bound to Mongolia, we have encountered the challenge of packing. All the gear and equipment we have gathered over the last few months now has to be packed into a limited number of bags without exceeding the airline weight limit. So far all the bags are weighing out perfectly, even with all the heavy tools and hardware. As we pack we have been making frequent trips to buy last minute tools and personal items that we might need for the project. Overall the crew is staying strong through finals week as the anticipation grows to finally take off on our adventure. A successful finals week has left us full of excitement for our departure!

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