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Giving back to our communities through Engineers Without Borders USA

March 21, 2022

David Wilcoxson reflects on the impactful work we are able to accomplish in conjunction with Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA)

This story was written in coordination with Clare Haas Claveau of Engineers Without Borders USA, who provided the introduction below.

Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) is partnering with communities around the world to meet their basic human needs. We’re building footbridges to provide pathways to opportunities. We’re installing solar panels to bring light where it is dark. We’re digging for water so hope can spring from the ground. But it takes more than materials to build a strong foundation.

EWB-USA’s volunteers are the heartbeat of our organization. EWB-USA is committed to creating a positive impact in the lives of our partners and our volunteers. EWB-USA and Stantec have partnered together to help communities advance infrastructure solutions since 2017. We are so grateful for this partnership and volunteers like David Wilcoxson and all of the Stantec employees who volunteer their time, their energy and their expertise in pursuit of our vision of a world where every community has the capacity to sustainably meet their basic human needs.

What inspired you to get involved with Engineers Without Borders USA?

David: I had been looking for ways to get more involved on a community level and I received an all-staff email from Jennifer Van Vleet, our EWB-USA champion, looking for volunteers. Initially I did not think I could add value but after reading a project description, I felt it was really something I could bring my specific expertise to, so I decided to apply for the Project Manager role.

In San Antonio, Texas, 46% of renters are “overburdened,” or paying more than 30% of their gross income to cover rent.

Tell us about your current projects.

David: My project is in the Town of Ashfield, a rural community in western Massachusetts. The town is very small with a population of 1,737 that has had very small growth and a per capita income of only $26,483/year. Consequently, the existing wastewater treatment plant has had very few upgrades since it was built in 1998, with several of the existing facility components such as the effluent biological wetlands having been abandoned because it cost too much money to keep them maintained and operational. Our project looked at what types of automation could be implemented at the facility since they have a very slim operating budget and would have to apply for grants to be able to implement any upgrades.

What impact will your projects have on the community?

David: The community of Ashfield will benefit as the operation of their wastewater treatment facility will be more consistent with the implementation of the ideas we have developed as part of our project report. It will also help their environment as the consistency of operation will avert discharge violations, which they currently do not have a reliable understanding of.

The Town of Ashfield’s wastewater treatment facility will benefit from greater consistency of operation.

What challenges do these communities/organizations face in accessing the resources needed to prioritize projects like this?

David: The biggest challenge is money, closely followed by manpower able to conduct an assessment of this type. The treatment plant has a fulltime operator, but he is very much focused on manually operating the facility. He does not have the time or resources to investigate different operational strategies that would enable him to not have to be reactive to issues that come up constantly.

How has the EWB-USA engagement helped them to maximize limited resources and generally better understand the project delivery process?

David: The EWB-USA engagement has really helped the town focus on the challenges it has with limited resources, and it has provided officials with an understanding of what is available to help them automate their process. This should also help them save operating costs, which come directly out of the town’s yearly budget.

After partnering on these projects, what tips would you offer other communities/organizations that are underserved or juggling limited resources?

David: I recommend that any community looking to improve its infrastructure issues reach out to EWB-USA as there are professionals that can help them solve these issues. It is never easy to fully realize that help is available and that there are people willing and able to help. I also recommend that they do not hold back on their own ideas as they know their community best and what limited resources they have available.

Dwight Harrienger (left) from our Rochester, New York office at an EWB-USA project in the Dominican Republic.

Are there any lessons you’ve learned—or impressions you’ve taken away—after working on these projects?

David: Listen to the client and try to understand their situation. In our day jobs we typically work on large projects that have a reasonable budget for the design and construction. What we learned with the Town of Ashfield is that there are many more communities out there that do not have the resources, both in money and manpower, and you must listen to them on what would make the most impact for the smallest capital cost.

  • David Wilcoxson

    As vice president and digital practice leader, David is responsible for managing our internal Water group for Digital Practice in North America. He is known for implementing process efficiencies throughout different design disciplines.

    Contact David
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