Small Projects, Big Impact: Interest Builds in CE Corps

March 20, 2015

The Community Engineering Corps (CE Corps) does what civil engineers do best: it collaborates with community partners to help design and build sustainable projects.

CE Corps is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that matches engineers and/or engineering teams in the U.S. who would like to do some pro bono work, with underserved communities who do not have the resources to access engineering services in a traditional fee-for-service manner. The CE Corps was formed through a partnership among ASCE, Engineers Without Borders–USA (EWB-USA), and AWWA (American Water Works Association).

While many of the projects coordinated through the CE Corps are small, the work is both “important and impactful” to the communities served, says Peter Waugh, P.E., M.ASCE, principal engineer and domestic program director at EWB-USA. Waugh has served as the CE Corps’ staff leader since the organization’s inception.

Projects in the CE Corps portfolio cover a wide range:

  • Developing community gardens in inner city neighborhoods in Camden, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Assisting the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota with the structural design of a community building
  • Helping residents on the Navajo Reservation install solar heating units on public buildings and private hogans
  • Serving on a technical advisory committee with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water in the Salinas River Valley of California

And demand for the program is growing.

“Since last February, the Community Engineering Corps has had 20 communities come to us and ask for our assistance,” says Waugh.

Good Design and Community Empowerment

Waugh says there is a need for ASCE Sections, Branches, Younger Member Groups, Student Chapters, or individual members to consider volunteering for a CE Corps project, such as the Denver Indian Center.

“It’s really a very small project,” explains Waugh. “The community center that serves urban tribal members has a leaky roof and they need an engineer who can put together a Request For Proposal [RFP] and analyze bids for companies to redo the roof. They just don’t know how to do it.”

“They actually received some money from a donated source that is going to pay for the construction, but they want an engineer or a team of engineers to make sure that the RFP is well put together, analyze the bids, and see that the work is done properly,” Waugh says. “This is exactly what a lot of ASCE members do as a matter of course. Matching engineers up with the folks at the Denver Indian Center, and helping them repair their roof properly, would be doing the community a huge service.”

Scott Moore [y Medina], the architect-partner representing the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, says the communities served are very appreciative of the help they receive from the CE Corps. A team of volunteer engineers and students from the City College of New York traveled to Mission, South Dakota, to help with the structural design of a community building on the 600-acre,  tribal Keya Wakpala Green Development site.

“The process of design for this project has been inclusionary and respectful of local culture and values,” says Moore. “When projects are conducted this way, it makes a lasting impact for all involved. It honors the local community to have them lead the conversation, with Public Interest Design practitioners from the fields of planning, architecture, and engineering assisting every step of the way. This is not just good design, this is empowerment. This is positive social, economic, and environmental change.”

“There’s tremendous value in working on a CE Corps project,” notes Frank Poma, an engineering student on the City College of New York team that worked on the Keya Wakpala project. “It gives you the opportunity to work on real-world engineering projects with experienced professionals, and to help underserved communities within our own borders.

“The impact that you [as an engineer] can leave with a domestic community is equally as great as if working internationally, but with less demand on the students to come up with the capital to fund the project, and to deal with the costs and complications of traveling abroad.”

Volunteering for the CE Corps

The Huerta del Valle Community Garden in Ontario, California, is another CE Corps project that is currently looking for a volunteer team of engineers. A society that grows its own organic crops, the Huerta del Valle Community Garden would like to create spaces for such things as education programs, seed storage, a community demo-kitchen, a youth clubhouse, performances, and meetings. This would be accomplished through the design and construction of a rammed earth mini-library, rammed earth amphitheater, shading structure, and upcycled shipping container clubhouse and kitchen.

The CE Corps project is presently seeking a professional engineer licensed in the state of California who would be willing to serve as the Responsible Engineer in Charge (REIC) and a project team of additional engineers to support the REIC. Also, an independent review panel of three experienced engineer professionals, who are not part of the design team, is needed to ensure the quality of the design. Currently, ASCE’s San Bernardino–Riverside Branch is considering this project and looking for an REIC and interested engineers.

Waugh says that either individual civil engineers or a team of civil engineers can get involved in the Huerta del Valle Community Garden project, or other projects that are in need of volunteers, by first visiting the CE Corps website and then tuning in to the free monthly 20-25 minute live webinars that fully explain what the CE Corps is all about. They can then visit the Open Projects webpage to view projects that are presently in need of volunteers, and apply.

“We have an Open Project page that changes on a regular basis so if you go there and there is nothing for you, don’t get discouraged and think ‘this is not for me,’ go next month and there will be different projects,” says Waugh. “Also, an individual engineer can choose to join the Technical Review Committee or the Application Review Committee, which reviews community projects that [have] applied to the CE Corps.”

“Attorneys in the legal field have this thing about doing pro bono work for folks [who] just don’t have access to their services,” says Waugh. “I would love to see engineers in the U.S. and the companies that they work for have that same ethic of giving back to their community by using their skills and helping other folks in a pro bono method.

“Ultimately, we are hoping that the Community Engineering Corps becomes the go-to place if you want to help underserved communities in the U.S. with their engineering needs.”

2 Comments
  • Philip J. Valent

    Still interested in participating on project in Louisiana and/or Mississippi. Specialty is geotechnical engineering.

  • As a long-time member of ASCE, I would be glad to be a resource to CE Corps. For the last 34 years, I have lived overseas working on development projects and rural community water systems mostly in Ecuador. For the last 20 years, I have been doing projects together with the Michigan AWWA section. And at least a couple of projects together with EWB. Several times, I have had the opportunity to present some aspects of what we are doing and learning at ASCE EWRI international conferences.

Leave a Reply

— required *

— required *