Iowa City Press-Citizen: Engineering Student Design Project Benefits Habitat for Humanity

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A group of dedicated and creative engineering students are coming to the rescue for Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity's "Fore on the Floor" Miniature Golf Tournament this weekend, October 6 - 7. The tournament will be held on Saturday and Sunday at the Sycamore Mall. Holes 1-9 currently exist in the Par-Tee Zone. But holes 10-18 needed to be built so that the course could continue down the mall corridor.

Where to get the materials?
Where to get the designs?
Where to get the builders?

Randy's Carpets and Lowe's are generously supporting the event by contributing materials. Students from a University of Iowa Engineering class are designing and building the additional holes. The course, taught by Professor Craig Just, is "Design for the Developing World." Hands-on service learning projects are an integral part of the course.

In the first exercise of the semester, students constructed solar ovens and baked brownies in front of the Seamans Center for the Engineering Arts and Sciences. After the Habitat project, they will create water filters using plastic 2-liter bottles filled with layers of sand. Making it easier to cook and helping to purify water using inexpensive, locally available materials, are important ways to improve the quality of life in developing countries. These are students with passion and creativity. One of them may even be a future recipient of the MacArthur "genius" grant. But first, they need to complete the mini-golf project for Habitat for Humanity.

Aaron Gwinnup, a student in the class, has been a professional contractor for over 15 years. Serving as the project leader, he generously offered his tools, allowed the group to use his yard, and taught basic building skills to others in the class working on the golf course. Designing and building 9 mini-golf holes is a challenge. But it is even more of a challenge when the holes have to be built in 2 days which is all that Aaron could carve out from his studies.

Students on Friday morning included Jacob Snyder, Adrian Strain, Alexandra Keenan, and Philip Frystak led by Aaron Gwinnup. Holly Moriarty is the course coordinator and Ginger Walsh, Aaron's partner, says she served as the "bossy organizer". A total of 14 students and friends spent over 100 hours constructing the holes. Designing and constructing the holes was a team effort that included men and women who were both skilled and novice in framing wooden structures.

The students building the holes are more concerned about sustainable communities than indoor sports. Nevertheless, they saw building the holes as a fun way to get environmental information out to the public. The students also agreed to the service learning project because Habitat for Humanity helps improve housing for people in poverty around the world. Habitat "tithes" 10% of all monies raised to build homes overseas. This means that for every home built locally, 1 - 2 more homes are built in developing countries. These are the countries that are also of concern to the students in Professor Just's class.

On Saturday morning, the materials for building the mini-golf holes took up a small portion of Aaron Gwinnup's back yard. By the next afternoon, the majority of the course was ready for play. By this Friday, the course will be up and running in the Sycamore Mall for the minigolf tournament. And by Sunday, the proceeds from the tournament will help build a home here in Iowa City, and another home overseas such as Ghana, Botswana, and Guatemala.

Fumes from indoor cooking fires kill more than 2 million children a year in the developing world. MIT engineer Amy Smith details an exciting but simple solution: a tool for converting farm waste into cleaner-burning fuel. Plain-spoken and passionate, Smith talks about some other tools she and her students are creating, including an incubator that stays warm without electricity and a grain mill that frees women from hours of grinding every day. These are basic tools with world-changing results.Amy Smith designs cheap, practical fixes for tough problems in developing countries. Among her many accomplishments, the MIT engineer received a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2004 and was the first woman to win the Lemelson-MIT Prize for turning her ideas into inventions.

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