As a graduate student, Jeff Plumblee had an idea to combine his passion for engineering with his desire to serve others. Drawing inspiration from programs like Engineers Without Borders, Plumblee created what is now the Clemson Engineers in Developing Countries Program (CEDC). He and his team of 5 students went to serve the people of Haiti in a practical way for the first time in 2010, just nine months before the earthquake occurred. While that trip was far from perfect — including weathering a storm in a dugout canoe patched with concrete and landing near a one room bamboo schoolhouse — it laid the foundation for many trips to Haiti to come.
Dr. Plumblee now serves as the Founding Director for the program. The mission of CEDC is to assist in the development of practical and viable solutions improving the quality of life for the local communities in Haiti. In just seven years, the program has grown immensely, involving anywhere between 60 and 80 Clemson undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of majors and disciplinary areas. Each semester, students have the opportunity to spend time here or in Haiti, working on projects involving water systems, economic development, and other infrastructure projects. CEDC also offers year-long programs for interns to live in Haiti, where they oversee projects and build community relationships with the citizens of Haiti and others living there.
The mission of CEDC is to assist in the development of practical and viable solutions improving the quality of life for the local communities in Haiti.
Senior Guy Higdon spent six months in Haiti as part of the CEDC internship program, assisting local communities in improving water systems. The first three months of his internship were spent planning and learning the language of the locals and the last three were spent implementing those plans in order to help locals with various engineering projects. These internships aren’t spent going on coffee runs or making copies, but rather allow students to practically implement the technical skills they are learning in the Clemson classroom. One of Higdon’s favorite memories from last semester involved him and twenty Haitians hauling a 1500 pound concrete mixer down 500 stairs using planks and wheels to move it up and down.
This is a permanently affixed plaque into the dam that we built with our first water project in Cange, Haiti. Our logo has evolved since then, but it was the 2nd from the right, and even though I imagine you aren’t fluent in Kreyol, it basically says thanks to the Diocese of Upper South Carolina and the group of engineers from Clemson University.
These are a few of our students with the workers of a local concrete block manufacturing plant. CEDC students worked with the plant to increase the quality of the block they produced to meet international standards.
This is 4 of our students out in a rural village talking with a family at their home.
This is a group picture from our first group trip in June 2009. The sign says “Welcome to Cange” in Kreyol.
As a freshman, current CEDC program director and student Aaron Gordon saw a flyer in his residence hall advertising CEDC. Since then, he has participated in four trips to Haiti, one of which was a semester-long internship. While many memories from each of his projects are meaningful to him, he recounts fondly a project from last fall break where, when working on a wind power project, the locals working alongside him were proud of his strength and said that he was “Haitian.” Proud of his adoption as a native Haitian, Aaron hopes to continue with the service mindset that CEDC has helped him to develop as he navigates the professional world after graduation.
While many memories from each of his projects are meaningful to him, he recounts fondly a project from last fall break where, when working on a wind power project, the locals working alongside him were proud of his strength and said that he was “Haitian.”
Clemson gives students the tools and resources necessary to be successful, and the CEDC program encourages experimentation with faculty direction, whether that be in Clemson or in Haiti. As CEDC has grown, faculty advisors have developed a few “spin-off” programs in Clemson such as providing internet assistance and social media literacy for the senior residents of Clemson Downs and also expanding to other parts of the Caribbean for improved water resources and community sustainability.
Trips to Haiti are just the tip of the iceberg. As CEDC continues to grow, it is paving the way for service -learning initiatives to expand into other areas both nationally and globally. .
Interested in learning more about an intern’s experience? Check out Aaron’s blog here.
For more information about CEDC, visit their website.
Written By: Claire Chaney
Claire Chaney is an English major and Communications minor here at Clemson University. All the way from San Jose, California. In her free time, she loves listening to music and is a contributing writer for music blogs When the Gramophone Rings and Half & Half. In addition to her internship with the Pearce Center for Professional Communication, Claire is involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes on-campus. After she graduates, she is hoping to pursue a career in publishing, wherever that may lead her.