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Durham DEID Project Wins Statewide Award

Determined to use their engineering skills to support their local Durham community, a group of Duke students received enough support in return to win a $10,000 grant for their project.

The award comes from the State Employees Credit Union (SECU) Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation competition sponsored by the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) at North Carolina State University. The contest challenged collegiate students from North Carolina to creatively address social, economic and health issues affecting the state.

The project from Duke Engineers for International Development (DEID) proposes to find an engineering solution to the large amount of litter that accumulates in Ellerbe Creek and flows into Falls Lake, a local source of drinking water. Thanks to the numerous votes that rolled in from the Durham community, the proposal won the “Fan Favorite” award of $10,000.

“This year is DEID’s 10th anniversary and it has always done international projects,” said Aibi Janat, a sophomore studying computer science and statistics and one of the project’s co-leaders. “But we thought why not use our skills to try to create something here in Durham?”

With the help of their mentor David Schaad, professor of civil and environmental engineering, the group of 15 students spent the first part of the semester contacting non-profit organizations in Durham and asking what projects they needed help with.

After settling on Ellerbe Creek’s litter problem, the students began reviewing ideas for how to keep the creek clean and came up with three potential solutions. The first involves small trash traps attached to storm drains. The second two include trash trap spanning the creek—either several small traps in a number of tributaries or one trap across the whole creek where several tributaries meet.

After fleshing out each idea, the team plans to settle on a solution to present at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in March, where they will be able to get feedback from experts on their plan. Their goal is to have the design finalized and ready to implement by the end of the semester.

“Depending on our final design, $10,000 may not be enough to cover the cost of materials for our project,” said Elsie Ling, a sophomore studying electrical and computer engineering and computer science and co-leader of the project. “So we’re still fundraising and looking for other grants to apply for. The advantage of doing a local project, though, is that we’re here, it’s ongoing and we’re dedicated to finishing the project regardless of the timeframe.”

If interested in helping the DEID team complete its Ellerbe Creek project, donations can be made at