Hometown: Barrington, RI
For one school in San Mateo Ixtatán, Guatemala, flushable toilets were going to be a big step up from outhouses, except that workers planed to drain the toilets into a nearby river, posing a huge environmental threat to the community. But for URI engineering student Marc Vigeant, the potential nightmare was a solvable problem.
Marc leads the URI chapter of Students for Global Sustainability – a team of engineering students who met weekly for two years designing a wastewater treatment system for the Guatemalan school, surmounting challenges at every turn. The school lacks reliable electricity, so they’re using dosing siphons that harness natural energy from gravity to provide flow. There’s no existing treatment infrastructure, so they designed a sand filtration system. There are no plat maps, so they traveled to Guatemala last summer to do their own survey.
“At first it seemed like an overwhelming project,” Marc said. “But over time, the solution became more and more palpable.” His team was aided by the guidance of Vinka Oyanedel-Craver, URI assistant professor of civil engineering, and Stephen Andrus and Phil Virgadamo, professional engineers at GZA GeoEnvironmental Technologies.
“I’ve been really impressed with the students,” says Andrus, a URI alumnus. “They do a great deal of work, and they are very devoted to their cause.”
So devoted, in fact, that Vigeant finds himself trading paper plates for real dishes and cringes when people buy bottled water. He also oversaw installation of his system in Guatemala this summer. On his way to graduate school for a Master’s Degrees in engineering and business, he aims to open an engineering firm specializing in installing renewable energy systems.