Rather than jumping into
the work force to begin her career ascent or returning to the classroom
to pursue an advanced degree, Sarah Brownell 98 (mechanical engineering)
chose to travel to remote, underdeveloped regions of the world to work
on behalf of the underprivileged.
associate professor of civil engineering technology, and Sarah Brownell,
mechanical engineering '98, in front of a solar panel that powers
an ultraviolet drinking-water disinfecting system in Borgne, Haiti.
Weeks after graduation in
1998 she arrived at the HOPE health clinic in the farming and fishing
community of Borgne, Haiti, to install solar panels as part of an independent
study project on renewable energy. Within two years, she helped develop
and install a solar-powered drinking-water disinfecting system at the
The device uses a filter
bag and 40-watt ultraviolet light bulb to produce five gallons of clean
water a minute, providing village residents with free, safe drinking
water. It was designed with help from Bill Larsen, RIT associate professor
of civil engineering technology.
Similar systems were installed
in Nan Sab and Fond LaGrange, neighborhoods just outside Borgne. In
January 2002, Brownell installed one in an AIDS hospice clinic in Takeo
Province, Cambodia. Another is planned for a Haitian hospital.
With each installation, Brownell
provides technical support and training in the operation of community
water-supply systems. Funding came from Rochester-area churches, notably
Spiritus Christi Church; from Larsen, who provided supplies and tools;
After returning to the United
States from Cambodia early this year, Brownell continued her work on
behalf of the poor. At the University of California at Berkeley, where
shes studying for a masters in civil and environmental engineering/water
quality, shes helping design the UV-Tube, an ultraviolet-powered
water disinfecting unit that can be made for about $40.
Often, the biggest challenges
she faces are cultural. Its easy to make a project work
in the technical sense, she says. Its much harder
to figure out how social beliefs and cultural practices of the area
will affect sustainability of a project.
It comes as no surprise that
along with her interest in engineering, Brownell also has a passion
for social issues. At RIT she was involved in social-justice issues,
was project coordinator for Community Service Clubhouse and volunteered
at St. Josephs House of Hospitality, a shelter and soup kitchen
in Rochester. She was an Outstanding Undergraduate Scholar, honors student
and recipient of the Kearse Writing Award in Literature. Outside the
classroom, the Amsterdam, N.Y., native played intramural soccer and
Laboring for the welfare
of humanity, though, always topped her list of activities.
When Herbert Hoover
wrote, To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones
of science with life, comfort and hope, he evoked a higher calling
for engineers, she says. He intimated that engineering is
not only about developing new technology and making things faster, more
efficient and more profitable for people in the first world. Its
foremost about improving lives. I give my time to these endeavors in
the spirit of Herbert Hoovers words and in hope that I can bring
some simple engineering solutions to those who have far too little life,
comfort and hope in their lives.
I hope one day all
the people in Borgne and surrounding areas will have access to free,
safe drinking water, she continues. Simple technology, simple
ideas can go a long way toward making this a reality.
full account on Brownells work with the HOPE health clinic in
Borgne, Haiti, see the article, Free, Safe Drinking Water in Borgne