Dan Johnson, of Tetra Tech’s Boulder, Colorado, office, and his wife spent the holidays again this year as senior professional mentors for the Cal Poly Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB) Thailand Team. The Cal Poly EWB Thailand team has focused on the communities near Huai Nam Khun in the Chiang Rai Region for the last eight years.

The team has developed and implemented projects for clean water (sand filter systems), composting, and a micro-hydro power plant. Although the micro-hydro project has not gone forward, the other projects have been implemented and are doing well.

This year, the team spent three weeks checking up on the existing projects and visiting the jungle location of the cancelled power project. They also identified and engaged a new partner community for EWB projects over the next five-plus years.

The process of implementing a new partnership included visiting, interviewing, and ranking 14 mountain communities in the Chiang Dao Region. The team had an interpreter fluent in several of the many languages spoken by these communities of mostly refugees from Burma (now Myanmar) who escaped to the mountains of northern Thailand between 40 and 100 years ago.

“This trip exposed me to the extreme importance of designing creative, adaptable engineering systems—no matter what I will be designing for,” said Kimmy Pugel, a student who participated in the Thailand visit. “Often we visited a community with a water treatment or water storage system that failed within a few years of implementation because the system wasn’t tailored to the specific needs of the community.”

Dan assisted the students in developing questions; engaging the local leaders; visiting their water, transportation, power supply, and agricultural projects; and identifying potential projects that fit EWB criteria. Once the team had completed interviews and prepared documentation, they developed a weighted screening spreadsheet with more than 20 issues and used it to assist in selection of the new partner community.

The team completed a memorandum of agreement with the selected community, Pa Kloi, which needs an improved bridge for pedestrian and motor scooter access to the village. The bridge will span a river that often blocks access to the remote community. The community also needs to improve their existing water supply line and water storage capacity, add slow-sand filter systems for improved water quality, enhance agricultural techniques using irrigation and composting, and potentially implement a micro-hydro power project.

Dan and his wife thoroughly enjoy donating their time to this worthwhile program—both for the benefits to these developing communities in Thailand and for the opportunity to spend time with and mentor young engineering students. Tetra Tech benefits by having very positive exposure to these outstanding students and their highly respected engineering university.

“It was invaluable to us to have Dan Johnson be a part of our team on our trip to Thailand,” Kimmy said. “Not only was he able to put our ideas in perspective as we brainstormed potential future engineering projects, but I also learned so much about real world applications for everything that we did—nothing that I could have learned in a classroom.”

“Dan opened my mind to the great potential of a passionate engineering student hoping to make a difference,” she said.