Students Engineer a Clean, Green Solution

A school in San Mateo Ixtatán, Guatemala planned to install flushing toilets for the first time. While that seems like a major step up from outhouses, workers planned to drain the toilets into a nearby river, posing a huge environmental threat. For URI engineering alumnus Marc Vigeant ’12 (above), the potential nightmare was a solvable problem.

The Barrington native leads the URI chapter of Students for Global Sustainability. They’re a team of seven engineering students who’ve met weekly for nearly two years designing a wastewater treatment system for the school and surmounting challenges at every turn. The school lacks reliable electricity, so they’re using dosing siphons that harness natural energy from gravity to provide flow. There’s no existing treatment infrastructure, so they designed a sand filtration system. There are no plat maps, so they traveled to Guatemala last summer to do their own survey.

And to pay for the project, the group sold plastic cups, empty ink jet cartridges, old cell phones, and broken laptops to a recycling company, and asked for financial support from the URI College of Engineering. Armed with money and plans, Vigeant and classmate Dan Waugh ’12 traveled to Guatemala in August to oversee installation of their system, which now serves as a model for the community to reproduce.

“At first it seemed like an over-whelming project,” Vigeant says. “But over time, the solution became more and more palpable.” The team was guided by Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Vinka Oyanedel-Craver, and by Stephen Andrus ’04 and Phil Virgadamo ’64, M.S. ’66, engineers at GZA GeoEnvironmental Technologies in Norwood, Mass.

“I’ve been really impressed with the students,” says Andrus. “They do a great deal of work and they are very devoted to their cause.”

On his way to graduate school for master’s degrees in engineering and business, Vigeant aims to open an engineering firm specializing in installing renewable energy systems.