AWWA/WEF student chapter reaches out to next generation of engineers

AWWA/WEF student chapter reaches out to next generation of engineers

Calendar Icon Mar 02, 2016      Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel     RSS Feed RSS

Rachel Levine, vice president of UNL's AWWA/WEF student chapter and a graduate student in civil engineering, shows middle school students an experiment during the Global Day of the Engineer, Feb. 24 at the Nebraska Union.
Rachel Levine, vice president of UNL's AWWA/WEF student chapter and a graduate student in civil engineering, shows middle school students an experiment during the Global Day of the Engineer, Feb. 24 at the Nebraska Union.
Finding solutions to the world’s problems is one of the duties of engineers.

But finding the next generation of problem solvers, especially those who will tackle the job of protecting the earth and its environment, is a task that a group of UNL engineering students doesn’t take lightly.

Showing nearly 60 middle school-age students easy and new ways that water is being used for the betterment of people and the planet, the UNL student chapter of American Water Works Association/Water Environment Foundation (AWWA/WEF) made an impact during the Feb. 24 Global Day of the Engineer. The event at the Nebraska Union was part of the annual Engineering Week.

“We tried to focus on things you can’t really find in a textbook,” said Rami Zaira, AWWA/WEF president and a civil engineering graduate student. “These activities are important to young people and those young people are the generation that are going to be our future engineers, lawyers and politicians. There has to be an outreach, especially to the young generation as a global effort, and we feel it’s our duty to help them understand and keep them interested.”

The AWWA/WEF members showed the children a series of water experiments, ranging from treating wastewater to make it usable again, turning contaminated water into potable water and using water as a fuel source for a car.

Rachel Levine, AWWA/WEF vice president and a civil engineering graduate student, said the levels of interest, energy and knowledge from the young students was impressive.

“Even if they find that sort of thing in a textbook, it’s one thing to read about it but it’s another to see it happen before your eyes in a quick, easy-to-understand way. That helps connect them to those issues at a deeper level,” Levine said.

“They were really interested, and you could tell that they were energized coming in. And their questions were well-thought-out, even high school- or college-level questions.”

Zaira, who grew up in the Middle East without easy access to safe water, said preparing young people for the future and giving them ideas about how to keep the environment clean is of paramount importance.

“We are blessed here in the U.S. to have all these resources, but we must keep it as clean as we have it now,” Zaira said.

“A lot of people, especially here in Nebraska, are exposed to the environment because they grow up on farms and they deal with water, soil, animals and waste. If we show them environmentally friendly processes that they can use and get the job done just as well and, in many cases, much cheaper than with existing technology, they can have that in mind for the future and that will only help protect the environment.”

Levine, who earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from Purdue University, said there were other good reasons to reach out to the young students.

“I didn’t get much serious exposure to environmental problems until high school, when I was 15 or 16. I was already past that age gap when I started to take in all of that. In America, that’s pretty common. We’re kind of insulated from all that,” said Levine, who has a bachelor’s degree in environmental and ecological engineering.

“But it’s also an issue of getting young women involved as well, especially at a younger age. I had that sort of influence when I was that age, and that’s what drove me to be an engineer. Not a lot of young girls have that. When you get into high school, a lot of times it’s already too late.”