Biology student’s interdisciplinary research is changing the course of lives
CLEMSON, South Carolina – When the nearly 100 students of Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries (CEDC) come together to tackle a problem, they can change lives, including their own. Biology major Madison Stanley said her involvement with the organization has been a key part of her college experience, igniting a passion for teamwork that serves a greater good.
Stanley, who is a sophomore in the College of Science’s department of biological sciences, will represent CEDC at the “ACC Meeting of the Minds 2019” on March 29-31 in Louisville, Kentucky. The conference is part of the ACC’s Academic Consortium and showcases undergraduate research and scholarship at ACC member schools. Stanley is the organization’s director of marketing and is charged, in part, with dispelling the notion that CEDC is a program only for engineering majors.
“Our organization is a cross between an undergraduate research and a student-led organization,” Stanley said. “We have a faculty advisor and a full team of students that run everything. We have a program director that runs the class portion, and then we all split off into our respective project groups. We sustain a lot of different projects, so we’re a multidisciplinary group. We have students from every college at the university – not from every major, but we’re working on it.”
Currently, CEDC has about 15 different teams. Stanley said that number is fluid and changes with what is needed. Projects focus on education, agriculture and more, including a hydropower project in Cange, Haiti, that Stanley will present at “ACC Meeting of the Minds 2019.”
“Hydropower is a very long-term project,” Stanley said. “In the village where we work, they have very unreliable power. They run on what is called the Haitian grid, which is very poorly regulated and has very low reliability.”
When the grid fails, a diesel generator is used to power critical needs. This solution is both expensive and harmful to the environment.
“It costs about $200,000 a year to run the diesel generator, which is a lot of money, especially in Haiti where people are living on $2 a day,” Stanley said. “They are looking to create a reliable and consistent source of power for the village, using just water pressure from a nearby spring. There is a water system that has been in place since 1986 that a group of engineers from the Upstate placed. In 2009, just from wear and tear, a team of civil engineers from Clemson was asked to help renovate it. That’s how CEDC got started. We went down and renovated this water system and did some really amazing updates to where, for the most part, it’s fail-proof.”
The devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 led to a cholera outbreak that contaminated the water, necessitating a water-filtration system.
“Before that, it didn’t have a filtering system because everything was already clean,” Stanley said. “Since we put in the filter system, there haven’t been any cases of cholera in and around the Cange area. The impact is unfathomable until you see it.”
Stanley visited Cange last fall and saw the drinking water system – all six miles of it – for herself.
“We walked the water system in full and walked down the mountain to where the pumps are,” she said. “We saw the mechanics of everything. I feel like it really invigorated everyone who went on the trip to see the impact and know that what we’re doing in Clemson is changing lives.”
“When you’re here and you’re disconnected from Haiti, it’s hard to stay motivated sometimes. You have to have that reminder that it’s for the people,” Stanley continued. “This isn’t for your grade. This isn’t for CI (Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program). This isn’t anything but for these people. It’s amazing to see the switch before and after. Everyone who goes on trips or interns in Haiti, they come back and they have stories, they have new motivations. They have a new world view. It’s really amazing. I think that if we didn’t have a presence in the community, we wouldn’t be this successful as an organization.”
Stanley said the system carries water uphill to Cange, where it goes through filtration before spreading to eight fountains.
“The hydropower team is trying to use that same spring to basically create a source of power just using that water pressure,” she said. “This is not a project that college students normally would be working on. It’s very difficult. I wanted to use hydropower as an example of what we’re doing and how difficult it is and how we’re still actually making progress.”
The team has completed diagrams and cost estimates and is on the verge of submitting grant proposals to fund the project, which will include implementing a turbine system to generate power and rewiring much of the village so that the project will last for years to come.
“They’ve done all of these things that the average college student would never get to participate in and that’s all because of CEDC,” Stanley said.
Stanley, a native of Waldorf, Maryland, said the days she has spent in Haiti have affected her far more than she expected.
“It changed my life,” she said. “A lot of the reason that I look at the world differently is because I visited Haiti. The impact that I saw we were having in the village was immense – you see a plethora of orange when you walk around, and that’s because we have been present for so long.”
Stanley said every member of the team who visits there – regardless of his or her discipline – is called an engineer.
“There, an engineer is someone who solves problems,” she said. “It invigorates you to want to do more.”
Stanley plans to go to medical school, and she admits that she never really thought that she would be a part of something quite like CEDC.
“I didn’t know that CEDC was for non-engineering majors,” she said. “I went in on a whim.”
As Stanley found out, engineering a real project on the ground benefits from a variety of backgrounds, strengths and training – like that of the past intern microbiology major who already had expertise in the water testing needed in Cange, and the art major who attends festivals and creates art to help spread the word about CEDC.
“We found that it was so much more beneficial to have experts in different areas,” Stanley said. “Having all these different majors changes our game, honestly. It gives us so many more opportunities to have an effect.”