Nonprofit Work Fosters Collaborative Engineering Abroad and Back Home

Design Engineers employees were in high spirits! After partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in Cedar Rapids and Madison areas as part of DE’s 40th Anniversary volunteer efforts, staff were eager to find another opportunity to practice their passion for community-oriented collaboration while leveraging their experience in MEP design.

New Organization, Same Passion

A search effort, headed by Mechanical Engineer Sam Stinson, connected employees with a student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at Iowa State University (EWB-ISU). This group of students had recently embarked on a commitment to design and build a clinic for a rural community in Ghana. However, the interested group of employees soon discovered that the students had run into difficulties as they progressed into the design of the MEP systems for the facility. “The fact that they were currently working on this clinic project and were in some need of additional MEP expertise was a perfect opportunity for us!” says Sam. In the following months, Sam and a group of engineers from DE served in a mentorship role, guiding students with EWB-ISU as they developed a design for the clinic’s plumbing and electrical systems.

Currently dubbed the “Ullo Clinic” by those working on the project, the clinic will be intended to provide the 10,000+ residents of Ullo with immediate access to essential healthcare. Based on community feedback, the clinic is planned to consist of three wings; a Maternity Ward, Urgent Care Center, and an Administrative Area. The facility will be connected to a local borehole system previously installed by EWB-ISU for access to potable water and it is planned to incorporate a rainwater catchment system as a supplement for non-potable uses, such as the flushing of toilets. In addition to service from the local electrical grid, a solar PV array and emergency power supplied by portable generators are planned to provide the clinic with consistent power for medical practices.

“The design of the clinic embodies what DE is all about – using innovative strategies to fulfill the rural community’s needs despite their limited access to resources” says Sam, “this creativity is made possible by organized collaboration and communication between DE staff, faculty and students from ISU and KNUST [Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology], and the Ullo community”.

Investing in In-Person Teamwork

In October, Design Engineers hosted students from ISU and KNUST for a visit to their office, allowing this collaboration to extend to in-person teamwork. Sam, along with Senior Mechanical Engineer Tim Lentz and Mechanical Engineer Darrow Center gave students a presentation on sustainable design concepts, highlighting past DE projects that have prioritized energy efficiency. “It was cool to see the connections that KNUST students made between these projects and buildings close to home in Ghana. It’s common in Ghana for buildings to utilize PV arrays and other forms of electricity generation due to the inconsistently of the local electrical grid” Sam explained. “However, a new concept that really sparked their interest was geothermal!”. Staff took the visitors for a tour of mechanical and electrical spaces of the DE office, followed by lunch and a session to review plans for water supply to the Ullo Clinic.

Students from the Engineers Without Borders Chapter at Iowa State University, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and employees standing in front of the Design Engineers sign.

Embracing Our Role as “Collaborative Partners”

Design Engineers involvement in this endeavor has underscored one of the firm’s core values – serving as collaborative engineering partners. “At Design Engineers, we’re all about providing transformative engineering that helps our clients do great things,” says Dwight Schumm, Principal at DE and mentor on the Ullo Project. “And one of the best ways we do this is by serving as collaborative partners—whether it’s with members of the community close to home or thousands of miles away.”

Foremost, this has provided DE staff with a unique opportunity to network with and support young engineers. These learning opportunities have also allowed the company’s engineers to gain familiarity with design concepts that are best suited for rural communities, some of which may positively benefit DE’s work with communities in rural Iowa and Wisconsin. “A special aspect of this project is the collaboration that takes place with students both locally in Iowa and abroad in Ghana” says Stinson, “it’s been inspiring to work with students that share our same ambition and passion for service. More often than not, we’re learning from them!”

“It’s been inspiring to work with students that share our same ambition and passion for service. More often than not, we’re learning from them!”

Sam Stinson

Want to read more about our other collaboration efforts within the community? Check out our work with a group of University of Iowa students on their senior class project that led to some snazzy tech upgrades on our Lego model.