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High Impact

Duke Engineering students report on their community development projects at home and around the world

Duke Engineers for International Development (DEID), Uganda

A rainwater catchment system in Madagascar. Water treatment beds in Honduras. New school buildings in Uganda. A litter collection system for a creek in Durham.

The challenges and accomplishments of these high-impact projects were detailed during presentations by Pratt School of Engineering student members of Duke Engineers for International Development (DEID) on Nov. 2 and 4.

DEID is a student-run organization that works with community partners on projects that improve the lives of people in communities all over the world, said Karyn Saunders, DEID co-president and environmental engineering major.

After working with communities to identify their needs, DEID collaborates with professors and professional mentors during the school year to design solutions that are then implemented in the following summer. Teams spend anywhere from a few weeks to two months on-site. Many projects are completed over several summers. David Schaad, Professor of the Practice of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke, is the group's faculty advisor.

Students benefit along with their community and funding partners, learning real-world design experience and finding solutions to engineering challenges in developing communities.

During their presentations, DEID members detailed four recent projects.

Civil engineering major Charlie Pearlman explained how the DEID team worked with local builders to create a concrete system for storing rainwater, to improve life for the people of Manintenina, Madagascar. The new system creates a clear source of water and reduces the time community members spend collecting water.

As part of continuing work in El Pital, Honduras, Saunders showed how the students fixed tropical storm damage to the community’s system for managing wastewater from washing and installed new drainage beds.

In Kaihura, Uganda, in 2015, explained civil engineering majors Grace Park and Rebecca Rothstein, a DEID team overcame technical and logistical challenges to help a school build new brick classroom buildings to replace older wood structures weakened by termite infestation.

Mechanical engineering major Ziad Elarab detailed a project located just 10 minutes from the Duke campus, in Durham’s Ellerbe Creek. It was important to DEID, Elarab said, to have a project in the community that hosts Duke and its students. The group is designing, in partnership with the Ellerbe Creek Association, simple and cost-effective litter traps to collect trash without disturbing the ecosystem along the urban creek.

Find out more about DEID at its website,

Videos of the presentations can be found below and on YouTube: