The Engineers Without Borders chapter at the University of Washington (EWB-UW) is collaborating with the UW Farm to construct a greenhouse by the Center of Urban Horticulture (CUH). This project was funded in part by the Campus Sustainability Fund. EWB-UW is continuing its construction of the greenhouse this year, led by Adi Junus, Sergey Lukin, and Nammy Tran.
When one thinks of Engineers Without Borders, their participation in a local community project in Seattle is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. This is partly due to EWB’s global focus, which is articulated in its mission statement. To paraphrase, EWB’s mission statement is to support community-driven development projects worldwide, while creating experiences that enrich global perspectives.
However, EWB-UW was looking to contribute to a local organization to provide opportunities for students to work on engineering projects without traveling abroad. For this reason, Adi Junus said that EWB-UW sometimes jokingly refers to themselves as “engineers within borders.” They came across the UW Farm, which was looking to build a greenhouse by the CUH to grow more produce over the winter. This initial connection has resulted in a continued relationship between the UW Farm and EWB-UW over the past year, with EWB-UW providing volunteers to the UW Farm to work on the construction of the greenhouse.
The new greenhouse will allow the UW Farm to grow more plants over the winter. It will include heated benches to allow seedlings and soils to grow in a controlled environment. The EWB-UW team is currently working on constructing the metal frame, which is the main structure on the greenhouse. When presented with the challenge of bending the steel pipes for the frames, the students came up with a creative idea to use plywood to bend the steel pipes, which is representative of the innovative thinking and experimentation that this project involves. They plan on finishing the frame in November and moving on to the next step, which is placing the insulation and doors on the frame.
An important takeaway that EWB-UW students have learned from working on this project is the importance of documentation. EWB-UW has had to keep track of all of its documents for the project, such as designs for the greenhouse, so that it can be used when applying for grants and pitching the idea to other professionals. Being organized about time management is also important in carrying out a project of this large of a scope. At the start of this project, the members of EWB-UW planned the order of actions they would take and the time frame for completing each step. Adi said, “Foresight and planning were key to this project.” Due to their strategic planning, few unexpected surprises or deviations have arisen.
The design and construction of the greenhouse involves a collaboration of skills and knowledge among the students. For example, Adi discussed how this project drew upon knowledge from the fields of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering, utilizing various skill sets and allowing students to learn from each other. Civil and environmental engineering students contribute to the structural elements of the greenhouse, such as matters regarding material properties, soil, and concrete. Mechanical engineering comes into play in designing and creating the heating system for the greenhouse, which includes issues concerning water flow and electricity. For example, EWB-UW is figuring out how heated water will run through a boiler to reach the heated benches in the greenhouse. Constructing the greenhouse can be compared to solving a puzzle by utilizing the diverse knowledge and backgrounds of the students; each student’s experiences and ideas constitute a piece of the puzzle.
The unique partnership between EWB-UW and the UW Farm is an example of the cross-disciplinary nature of sustainability by utilizing technical knowledge and skills to create a sustainable, sturdy, and long-lasting greenhouse. Adi ended by saying that moving forward, the most important thing is to “continue having fun with the project.” As long as students enjoy working on the greenhouse, approach each task with a positive mindset, and view it as an opportunity to learn something new, they will continue to be motivated in carrying out the project. The EWB-UW team is looking forward to the contributions and perspectives that the new EWB-UW members will bring to the construction of the greenhouse in the future.