College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Iowa State’s Engineers Without Borders constructs drinking water system in Ghana

Iowa State University’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB-ISU) has returned to the village of Ullo, in northwest Ghana, to continue a project to bring a better source of water to the community.

“To say that my life has been changed by this opportunity seems like such an understatement,” said Kelsey Brandt, a senior in chemical engineering, who travelled to Ullo both in 2014 and 2016. “The second my feet hit that dusty ground, I felt at home.”

EWB-ISU has partnered with the Ullo community and the national EWB USA organization to extend the availability of drinking water from the four-month “wet season” to a year-round supply.

“We work closely with the water research institute in Ullo, Ghana,” said Kevin Prince, senior in civil engineering and current project lead. “Now they’re even helping us with the next drilling process. That’s been a huge part of the progress.”

Ullo is home to about 800 people, who rely heavily on farming. With an income of about $0.75 per person each day, resources in this region are hard to come by, according to EWB-ISU.

The water supply project fits well with EWB-ISU’s mission to “build a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Life changing

“Being a part of EWB-ISU gives you a greater purpose,” said Michelle Friedmann, senior in biological systems engineering and program coordinator. “These people are relying on you, and you’re really making a difference in these people’s lives.”

According to Friedmann from several testimonials from Ullo, Ghana residents have shown that they tend not to count on their government for services that they need, but instead look to their own community – and to EWB-ISU.

“Travelling to Ullo is a life-changing experience,” said Prince. “They’re amazingly welcoming and happy that you’re there. It’s empowering to do as much as you can to help them.”

The first trip to Ullo was in summer 2014, then in December 2016 EWB-ISU went to Ghana to assess the situation to find the best solution for this area’s issue. They determined that a small-town water supply project would be best for this community.

“The community is a big part of the decisions. It’s a partnership, not just a service project,” said Haley Swartz, senior in industrial engineering and co-president of EWB-ISU.

Action begins

EWB-ISU began the first half of the project implementation last month, and the second half could begin as soon as the summer of 2018.

The first half will be the distribution system, including the pump, water and pipes at access points in the community, according to Swartz.

The plan is to drill a borehole in Ullo, to allow well water to be accessed. This will save time and effort that would be used to get water from alternate sources, such as hand pumping, water storage and transporting from another location.

There are seven Iowa State students on the current travel team, chosen after an application and interview process.

“We don’t want to overwhelm the community, and make it like a vacation rather than a work trip,” said Friedmann.

The second half of implementation will be a check-in to determine how the system is working for the community and making any needed improvements.

“We’re in contact with Ullo citizens throughout each year, which includes a lot of communication,” Swartz said.


Student powered

EWB-ISU project is fully student powered and supported by fundraising, from Iowa State, corporate sponsorships, grants, individual donations and fundraising events, according to Kevin Strohm, senior

in chemical engineering and director of fundraising.

“We are always looking for donations, which go directly toward funding the project,” Friedmann said.

Although the project will total about five years, EWB-ISU maintains project momentum and interest.


Through constant contact with Ullo, contractors and experts, along with fundraising and designing efforts, the project is never on hold.

EWB-ISU is open to students of all majors, and there are many roles to fill, from marketing to designing water pumps. There are currently about 65 students in the group.

“In any position, you’ll get a lot of project management skills,” Prince said. “It helps you grow as a person, too, through public speaking and leadership development.”

Friedmann landed her dream internship with no work experience, and later found out that it was largely due to the implication of technical and leadership skills obtained through EWB-ISU.

EWB plans the well’s implementation before the trip

“You’re using your time to help people, which I think tells a lot about your expertise and character,” Friedmann said.

To learn more about EWB-ISU or to donate, visit