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A closer look at Russ College engineering students creating for good in Ghana

When OHIO students departed Athens last May after spring semester ended, four enterprising engineering students from disciplines across the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology boarded an 11-hour flight from New York City to spend nearly two weeks in the village of Maase, in the West African nation of Ghana.

Working as part of the Russ College's student organization Bobcats Building a Better World (BBBW), the group continued the work of a seven-year project in the village building teacher housing. With coordination by Maase village officials and residents, the group hopes to attract more qualified teachers to one day live in the rural village six hours from Ghana's capital, Accra. Russ College students, faculty and staff first became engaged with the village nine years ago as an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to create for good, and to prepare students to graduate ready to contribute to their communities.

Here's a closer look at all they accomplished. For more information about their trip, read the full news story. All photos were taken by senior civil engineering student Evan Boso, except where noted.


Claire Hall and a village resident work on digging the hole for the planned septic system.

Junior chemical engineering major Claire Hall helps execute one of the first tasks toward the septic tank installation: digging the hole. Using the fill dirt produced, the team built a low three-foot wall uphill from the town's solar panels, which power the town's well-water pump installed by a previous Russ College team. The wall redirects downhill runoff that had previously washed away the fence surrounding the panels, posing a security concern for the residents.


Evan Boso, Nicole Sova and Claire Hall discuss design changes.

Within a day or so of arriving in Maase, the BBBW team reached the consensus to abandon the original design, a leach field system, because the site didn't allow for the appropriate ground slope the design requires. Luckily, the had arrived with a plan B – the anaerobic digestion pit – and were able to reach the organization's president, senior civil engineering major Joe Cook, via phone to consult on the modified design. The group also incorporated water storage below the pit in the redesigned system for watering plants and cleaning tools, and other non-potable uses.


A group photo of village residents, tribal elders and Russ College students.

[From L to R]: Local resident Yaw, tribal elder Kwaku Ofori, Claire, village resident Luanga Ofori, senior industrial and systems engineering major Mike Felgenhauer, tribal elder Kofi Apiere, senior civil engineering major Evan Boso, sophomore chemical and biomolecular engineering major Nicole and hotel employee Barimah Antwi, who goes by Johnny, finish up work on the anaerobic digestion pit on the last day of construction. After the team departed, basic plumbing and the roof was to be completed by local residents. Another Russ College student trip is planned for winter break 2013 to finish the housing project's final component: a rainwater collection system that will divert rainwater into a central storage tank and pump it to smaller tanks above each of the home's two bathrooms for bathing.

Mike looking through a theodolite to survey the site.

Mike peers through a theodolite to check the heights and angles for the construction site after a quick tutorial from the group's only civil engineering major, Evan. Their measurements showed the need for a greater drop in elevation in order to support an outlet pipe for clean water, so instead a pump or manual retrieval system will now need to be installed. Future builders at the site will rely on the team's calculations.

Work continues with layers of filtration materials in the anaerobic digestion pit.

While Claire smooths out the layers of gravel in the anaerobic digestion pit, Evan and Nicole check calculations of the depths of the filter materials – including gravel, sand and fabric -- layered into the pit. From left, Kwaku, Yaw, Kofi, Johnny and Mike stand ready to help with adjusting the gravel depth before adding the fabric.


Adding the layers of burlap.

Kwaku and Claire lay the first of two layers of two-ply burlap sacks into the anaerobic digestion pit. The team had planned to procure synthetic landscaping fabric in Accra, but when they couldn't, a tribal elder provided the sacks, which were topped with sand and keep the water-cleaning bacteria floating above the bottom layer of gravel and the water storage underneath.


Children in Maase playing in front of a house.

Village children play in front of a house on one of Maase's two paved streets, which the Russ College team traveled after attending services at the village church.


Children follow the visitors through town.

After ordering custom-made clothing a local tailor's shop in the village, Nicole is escorted by a group of local children back to the village chief's apartment, where Russ College Associate Dean for Academics Jeff Giesey, the BBBW team adviser, was a guest. The children followed the BBBW team whenever they left their hotel or the work site, often singing the tune "Obruni father, hello, hello," a greeting chant commonly chanted to Caucasian visitors in Maase that dates back to the first such visitors to the village, who were priests.


Luanga's mother prepares dough for fufu.

Photo by Luanga Ofori

Evan watches the preparation of dough for fufu, a maise-based ball eaten with soup and used for a utensil, as it's prepared by the mother of local resident Luanga, who worked on the septic tank build as well as other Russ College projects as early as 2006. Luanga's young sister stays close as her mother works the dough, which is alternately flipped and pounded by a long-handled tool.


Mike and Johnny at final dinner in Maase.

Mike and Johnny, the group's unofficial village tour guide, enjoy an ice cream treat at the group's final dinner in the local hotel, where Johnny is a maintenance worker. Everyone on the Russ College team developed friendships with Johnny, who invited them to a friend's house for back episodes of the television show "Lost," giving the students a reminder of home.