Two North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dents were recently named “Emerging Leaders” by Engi­neers Without Borders–USA (EWB–USA) for building clean-​​water dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tems for more than 1,000 vil­lagers in Hon­duras and Uganda.

Ann Polaneczky and Matt Walsh were two of only nine col­le­giate or pro­fes­sional engi­neers in the 12,000-member non­profit human­i­tarian orga­ni­za­tion to earn the distinction.

EWB–USA works on some 350 water, renew­able energy and san­i­ta­tion projects in more than 45 devel­oping coun­tries around the world. Northeastern’s stu­dent chapter of the orga­ni­za­tion, founded in 2005, has brought clean water to fam­i­lies in El Tecuán, Los Planes and El Cha­guite, Hon­duras, and Bbanda, Uganda.

Northeastern’s group, which has more than 100 mem­bers, was named the North East region’s Pre­mier Chapter of 2010 by EWB–USA for their tech­nical pre­pared­ness and will­ing­ness to share resources with other chapters.

The young engi­neers say their work changes lives. Access to clean water has enabled vil­lagers to grow gar­dens, increase the quality of the food supply and pre­vent water-​​borne illnesses.

We’re improving quality of life for everyone,” says Polaneczky, a senior civil engi­neering major who served as pres­i­dent of Northeastern’s chapter from July 2009 to October 2010. “The more engi­neers who have a global per­spec­tive, the better the whole world will be, espe­cially in devel­oping countries.”

Over the last two years, Polaneczky twice led her team to El Cha­guite to col­lect data and con­struct a 6,500-gallon water storage tank and new trans­mis­sion lines. Today, there’s a tap at each house, the church and the school. In August, she and her team­mates vis­ited Bbanda, to drill two wells and com­plete a rain­water catch­ment system.

Walsh, the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the North­eastern chapter, and other mem­bers of the group met with com­mu­nity leaders in Bbanda in 2009 to dis­cuss social and tech­nical fac­tors shaping the village’s water crisis. Later this month, he’ll travel to Hon­duras to select another vil­lage in which North­eastern stu­dents will build a new clean-​​water dis­tri­b­u­tion system.

His team’s work is of utmost impor­tance to the liveli­hoods of the vil­lagers in Uganda.

When we were in Bbanda, vil­lagers from other parts of the region were asking when we were coming to their vil­lages,” says Walsh, a junior civil engi­neering major. “It’s really changing lives.”

The expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity isn’t lost on North­eastern stu­dents, says fac­ulty advisor Ferdi Hell­weger, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of civil and envi­ron­mental engineering.

This pro­gram pro­vides stu­dents with a broad per­spec­tive on how to solve prob­lems that aren’t pos­sible to explore in the class­room,” he says. “These types of out-​​of-​​classroom edu­ca­tional and pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment expe­ri­ences are really important.”