Students help island nation still recovering from devastating storm
CLEMSON — About 5,000 residents near the southern tip of Dominica learned just how precarious their water supply was when Tropical Storm Erika’s torrential rains caused a creek to breach the cistern that holds their treated drinking water.
With their usual supply contaminated, drinking water had to be shipped in. But a landslide caused by heavy rains blocked the only road into the area. There was no dock, so large boats couldn’t access the area and the smaller fishing boats weren’t seaworthy in stormy weather.
The drinking water eventually recovered from the August 2015 storm, but it remains vulnerable. For a group of Clemson University students, it’s among the first challenges in a new global engagement program, Engage Dominica.
Eight of the program’s 20 students went to the island nation over spring break to begin gathering information on 10 separate projects, including upgrades to the water treatment system.
They returned to Clemson with reams of data and are compiling a presentation they will use to start building support with the Dominican government, the Cardinal Felix Foundation and other groups that might want to collaborate.
Jared Delk, a sophomore civil engineering student, said he liked having the chance to create a project from scratch, helping design it, build it and make final adjustments at the end.
“Just knowing all that, it was one of the best trips I’ve taken,” he said. “It was amazing to know that the ideas that are coming from me could help people.”
Jennifer Ogle, an associate professor of civil engineering, leads Engage Dominica.
“These students are working hard to build their own organization and their own agenda and relationships in Dominica,” she said. “This program helps position them to have a global impact now and after they graduate.”
Dominica is a Caribbean island of about 74,000 residents and an economy primarily dependent on agriculture, especially bananas, although the government has been promoting the nation as a destination for ecotourism, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Since Tropical Storm Erika, authorities have continued to focus on infrastructure rehabilitation and social relief while addressing fiscal sustainability, according to a report last month from the International Monetary Fund.
Economic activity in 2016 remained weak, but growth is projected to accelerate to above 3 percent in 2017-18, the IMF found.
The projects the Clemson students are pursuing include a cap for the cistern and designs for a pier to support emergency evacuation, fishing and tourism. They also have plans for a basketball court that will direct rainwater around a low-lying primary school while giving the students a place to play.
Sharon Nagy, vice provost for global engagement at Clemson, said Engage Dominica challenges students to think about how they can have an impact on quality of life around the globe and helps prepare them for lives and leadership in an increasingly globalized society.
The project extends Clemson’s engagement with Dominica, centered around the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center. The center is managed collaboratively by a Dominican not-for-profit and Clemson University. The project also contributes to the current Clemson Caribbean Initiative.
“Graduates will need to transcend borders, cultures and languages as the needs of global society become more complex and commerce becomes more global,” Nagy said. “Engage Dominica is an example of how students can learn the skills they will need in a program that puts them in the driver’s seat.”
Engage Dominica already has corporate support, which is seen as a key to success.
Morgan Corp., a heavy civil contractor whose corporate office is located in Duncan, recently donated a LiDAR scanner to the program.
Students used the LiDAR scanner to collect images and point clouds of the proposed project sites in Dominica. Using this data, students can measure distances between any two points with a degree of accuracy within a few millimeters.
The LiDAR scanner helps save the time and effort of taking measurements by hand. And students don’t have to worry about getting back to Clemson and realizing they forgot to take a measurement in Dominica because they can just check the LiDAR image.
It’s also possible to use the images and point clouds to create 3D models.
Delk became so adept at using the device that he acquired the nickname, “LiDAR Daddy.” It was a big time-saver, he said.
“We had some people who needed some measurements on a house,” he said. “They spent literally the entire day taking measurements of everything — width, length, height, beam width — while the area I was scanning took two or three hours.”
James R. Martin, chair of the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering, said Engage Dominica is off to a great start. It is giving students a global dimension to their education, an opportunity for service learning and a chance to work across disciplines, he said.
“These are all crucial experiences that help students build the skills they will need to succeed in the 21st century,” Martin said. “I’d like to thank Morgan Corp. for supporting our efforts.”
Ben Heinz of Morgan Corp., who is a Clemson alumnus, said the LiDAR will help create a new generation of students who are passionate about learning and service.
“All of us at Morgan Corp. are very excited about our partnership with these students and Clemson and providing them with the tools and knowledge they need to continue these great projects.
“We hope this device helps inspire students to learn more about the skills they will need after graduation while improving lives for the people of Dominica. This is a win-win situation that we are honored to be a part of.”