Alum makes impact in South America

Alumni News


Chad Barton 15

Chad Barton ’15


2015 Alumnus sees Life without

Borders through Missouri S&T's Engineering program

When Chad Barton ’15 was looking for a design team to join at Missouri S&T, he took a special interest in the school’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) team. He was a freshman at the time, and the team seemed like a good fit for him. He was a civil engineering student at S&T, so joining other like-minded individuals with an interest in engineering seemed like a logical choice.

Before he knew it, he was named as an officer on his travel team, earning the title of Health and Safety Officer.

“It was a nothing job, first aid and safety talks” he joked.  He would later rise above that title and become the team lead. The team recently completed a clean water project in Guatemala.  He and his team committed to a new project and community with which they will work to build a school.  

The club provides engineering students a chance to travel all around the world to work with communities in developing nations on engineering projects through the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) program. EWB is a non-profit humanitarian organization established to partner with developing communities worldwide in order to improve their quality of life.

Engineers Without Borders USA builds a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges. Our 16,800 members work with communities to find appropriate solutions for water supply, sanitation, energy, agriculture, civil works and structures. To date, EWB has 16,810 members working in 46 countries on almost 700 projects.

The EWB Chapter at Missouri S&T, the group Barton works with, has had a tremendous impact on a small village in Guatemala. There, the group worked with the local community to develop a water distribution system that spanned 8 miles.

As one of the project leads, Barton came into the project 11 years after it was started by a previous EWB group. By the time Barton came along to the project, his group was working on setting up a business model, to include a billing system, maintenance plans to keep the new system in top working order, and other administrative aspects of operating the new system.

“Our goal is to have this water system still working 10, 20, 30 years from now," he said.

“It was a little strange working on a project that was started even before I was in high school,” he said. “Water was the first necessity in the particular village we worked.”

The project had many stutters and stops. One challenge was working with local construction crews who proved to be anything but reliable on many occasions.

“They would have a contractor drill a deep hole, but after they did that, they’d leave because they wanted more money,” Barton said. “We ended up having to play hardball with these contractors to get them to do what was needed to make the entire system work properly.”

Barton explained that education was much different in Guatemala than it is in the United States. Most of the workers there stopped formalized education around Grade 6 and many quit school to work to provide for their families after Grade 3.

“They were very intelligent people, who had no formalized education,” he added.

Barton recently traveled back to Guatemala in early August to finish up the project and to provide preventative maintenance training for the locals who would run the water distribution system after the EWB and S&T students left. While in Guatemala, Barton and the EWB crew spoke with a different community about building a new elementary school to serve the area.

The experience in Guatemala was fulfilling for Barton.

“I got a lot of fulfillment out of going to a community where they don’t have clear water, even though they pay their taxes and the government can't provide clear water. Now, because of our efforts, they have clean water.”

He also learned a lot about the culture of Guatemala while he was there.

“I’m 19 and I had many people ask me how many kids I have in my family. They weren’t talking about my brothers and sisters, they were talking about how many kids did I have. There, by the time you are 19, they’ll have maybe three kids. It’s very different than it is here in the U.S.”

The experience with EWB at Missouri S&T and other experiences he’s had in the civil engineering program has made Barton a huge supporter of the school. Going to S&T, “was a good match for me, but definitely a change from high school. The faculty at S&T not only expect you to know high-level concepts, but also to be able to put them into practice,” he said.

“It probably took me three semesters to get my head on straight,” he joked.

He is eager to speak with students looking at Missouri S&T and in particular the civil engineering program. The program has had a big impact on him and he’s happy to promote the good works EWB does.

"EWB gave me a sense of purpose,” he said.