In recent years, Brooks County, located just three hours south of San Antonio, has become one of the deadliest stretches of land for migrants crossing the border into the United States. According to an article in the Texas Observer, “migrants must leave the highway and hike through the rugged ranchlands” in order to circumvent the US Border Patrol checkpoint. This detour is often deadly. In the grueling south Texas heat, hundreds of migrants die each year from heat stroke and dehydration.
Recognizing this, Eddie Canales founded the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC), a community-based organization located in Falfurrias,Texas, in 2013. Since then, Canales and a group of compassionate volunteers have begun numerous projects to minimize the number of deaths in Brooks County. Specifically, the Water Station Project, which installed 90 water stations consisting of a barrel with six jugs of water and an aluminum flagpole, over 1200 square miles, has been implemented to alleviate dehydration and disorientation, which is often fatal for migrants. This year, as a part of Trinity University’s engineering design projects, the South Texas Human Rights Center asked senior engineering students for help to make the Water Station Project even better.
|Seniors Kathryn Schoer '17 and James Regan '17 work with the solar panel used in The Emergency Water Supply Station.|
“What appealed to me about this project was the urgency of it,” James Regan ‘17 stated, “A lot of engineering projects can help people, but when we are done they’ll probably start using the design right away.”
“The South Texas Human Rights Center wants light identification so the water barrels can be identified at night when the majority of movement happens, a way to track the amount of water in the barrel, and a durable and insulated container,” Kathryn Schoer ‘17 explained. In order to accomplish these tasks, the thirteen students working on the project split into five groups:
1. Water Station Structure and Base
|Photo of Water Station Structure and Base design, courtesy of The Emergency Water Supply Station.|
|The platform the students are using to design their website. Image provided by The Emergency Water Supply Station.|
3. Weight Sensor
|An example of the Compression Load Cells. Photo provided by The Emergency Water Supply Station.|
|The Arduino is being used to communicate data to the live-feed website. Photo courtesy of The Emergency Water Supply Station.|
5. Power Supply and Identification
|A graph showing daily hours of daylight and median cloud cover in Falfurrias, Texas. Provided by The Emergency Water Supply Station.|
All of these components will eventually be combined to create a life-saving and approachable structure to be placed in Brooks County. “We want the barrel to look homemade,” Regan said, hoping that immigrants will be comfortable taking water from the barrel if it looks humanitarian.
Despite the current political climate, Schoer continuously reiterated that The Emergency Water Supply Station is not a political statement. “The point is simply to demonstrate that these are human lives,” Schoer stated, “We are not trying to encourage or discourage people from crossing the border. We’re just trying to respect the sanctity of human life.” Certainly a valiant project, its impact is even more meaningful considering these barrels are placed less than three hours from Trinity’s campus. However, its success has not come without challenges.
Most of the project requires expertise in programming and mechanical and electrical engineering. Many of the students are focusing on other disciplines such as chemical or biomedical. Over the last four years, Trinity’s unique engineering science program has taught students the fundamental skills in electrical, mechanical, chemical, and design and analysis to allow them to pursue a career in any field of engineering. While a few group members have experience in data collection and analysis from previous internships, most have had to learned new material as the project progressed.
|The students will present their final project at the end of the semester.|
Despite this challenge, though, the students agree it has been a rewarding glimpse into what life as a professional engineer looks like. “This project has demonstrated how all the fields of engineering work together,” Schoer said, “You can’t have just a mechanical engineering project or just a chemical engineering project. You have to work with everyone.” This lesson is certainly important as the students graduate and pursue graduate school and careers this spring.
Although the students intend to pursue professional engineering careers, this project exposed them to the idea of volunteer engineering. “I’m fascinated by the idea of analyzing an existing problem, looking at the materials available, and solving it,” Regan said, “Most engineers have the newest technology and access to the best tools, but that isn’t the case in many places across the globe. I’d love to volunteer and use my engineering expertise to help people more directly, like this project is doing.”
Regardless of their plans, the senior engineering students working on The Emergency Water Supply Station project certainly have promising futures. “Engineering is about making a difference and being ingenious,” Schoer said, “This project allowed us to do just that and I think we all look forward to continuing our education and career with this spirit in mind.”
|Seniors Amanda Dinh '17 and Katherine Walls '17 work on the Communications aspect of the project.|
For more information about the South Texas Human Rights Center, please visit southtexashumanrights.org.
Funding for Trinity’s senior design projects is provided by the engineering department, courtesy of generous donations from board members, alumni, and parents. To learn more about engineering sciences at Trinity, visit their webpage.