Alyvia Schaad, Duke University Class of 2021
Durham, North Carolina
Major: Civil Engineering
Minor: Global Health
Certificate: Global Development Engineering Certificate
Grand Challenge Focus: Engineering Clean Water
Grand Challenge Advisor: Marc Deshusses
What are the Grand Challenges?
International group leaders came together in 2008 to identify the Grand Challenges facing engineers in the 21st century. The challenges are all focused on four themes: Sustainability, Health, Security and Joy of Living. The 14 goals aimed at improving life on earth are as follows:
- Providing access to clean water;
- Preventing nuclear terror;
- Engineering better medicines;
- Advancing health informatics;
- Making solar energy economical;
- Developing carbon sequestration methods;
- Securing cyberspace;
- Reverse-engineering the brain;
- Managing the nitrogen cycle;
- Providing energy from fusion;
- Restoring and improving urban infrastructure;
- Engineering the tools of scientific discovery;
- Enhancing virtual reality; and
- Advancing personalized learning.
These Grand Challenges have been proposed to inspire engineers to research and innovate new solutions to not only move our planet forward but to also meet the needs of so many communities that are lacking necessities of life.
Duke University, along with many other universities, have opened this opportunity to undergraduates. Duke aims to honor “the unique educational journey” through hands-on projects or research experiences, innovation and entrepreneurship experiences and global dimensions and service learning opportunities. I have chosen the Grand Challenge, providing access to clean water.
Why the Grand Challenge Program?
After traveling to Uganda for the first time in 2012, the water crisis and its impact on communities really struck me. I spent four weeks in a rural village five hours outside of Kampala, Uganda’s largest city. As we drove along the bumpy dirt roads, I remember seeing street vendors selling yellow gas can, vans with hundreds of those cans strapped to the roof and bikes carrying at least two on the back tire. Farther and farther away from the city, women were seen carrying the cans on their heads and little children were dragging them on their tip toes because the cans were bigger than them. Looking closely, I could see water splashing from the small opening at the top making the red dirt on the road stick together. Those yellow gas cans became known as jerry cans and I quickly learned that those people I saw on my drive into the village had probably been walking for miles even though that would’ve been the closest water source to their house. Not only was this water far from their homes but it was also in very poor condition. Most people grow immune to the bacteria infested water but one cup of that water would have made me very ill. I wondered how a necessity of life had become such a hindrance.
This question remained as I traveled to Uganda twice more where I saw the impact of not only the water crisis but also the lack of general hygiene and sanitation. These unfair conditions led me to Duke’s Civil Engineering department. Through our intro class I was inspired to begin thinking about solutions to some of the world’s grandest challenges. As I continued in my schooling career, letting my past experience act as a guide, I began to look at the Global Health side of Civil Engineering which has led me to pursue a minor in this field. I was led to the Grand Challenge Scholar Program because of the cross between Civil Engineering and Global Health, bringing together two fields that are essential for bringing a solution to some of life’s most basic, but greatest needs. For me, water, sanitation and hygiene are things that can easily be taken for granted, but for others they are the difference between life and death. This is a fact that is not lost on me. Through this program, I hope to look specifically at disaster prone areas and how their water retention or sanitation control is effected in the case of an emergency. I will be taking a closer look at WASH in refugee camps around the world, and ways to improve water quality for individuals.