CLEMSON — A project to bring fresh water to the people of the earthquake-ravaged nation of Haiti has earned a top service award for a team of engineering students from Clemson University.

The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education presented Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries its Service Learning Project of the Year award.

The Clemson group took a team of civil engineering students to Haiti in 2010 to help design and build water-delivery systems in rural areas — an assignment that they had begun to study even before the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck. (See related video.)

About 30 students were actively involved in design, logistics, training and fundraising efforts for the project, said Lance Bell, a Clemson civil engineering professor and faculty adviser to the group.

“They had been working on it for the past year or more, designing a water filtration, purification and distribution system for the rural village of Cange,” Bell said.

“We were able to determine where the rivers are and other geographical features that we needed to account for in our new designs. We were also able to investigate some of the existing cisterns in the town,” said Jeff Plumblee, a doctoral student in civil engineering and leader of the student group. “They're very poor people, but whatever we're there to do, they're happy to see us and they're more than willing to walk the pipeline with us or whatever they think they can do to help us.”

“We've seen little girls carrying one gallon of water in one hand, another gallon in another and then a five-gallon bucket on her head, balancing as she's climbing these stairs up top the village of Cange,” said Clemson civil engineering graduate student Corey Cattano. “Hopefully, our project will bring them water to accessible places throughout the town, so instead of traveling up and down the mountain every day it's brought to them.”

The Commission on Higher Education Service Learning Award honors college programs that address community issues, evaluating them on the degree to which they enhance the students’ learning and how they are integrated into the academic program.

The commission gives three such awards annually: one each for public four-year, public two-year and private institutions.

The review panel commended the Clemson group's “initiative in searching for a meaningful service learning opportunity, then planning and implementing the water system-design project.”

“We are very pleased that Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries has been honored for its public service, and doubly gratified that the Commission on Higher Education recognized its value as a learning endeavor,” said Esin Gulari, dean of Clemson's College of Engineering and Science. “We are extremely proud of the work our students are doing, both in and out of the classroom.”

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