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Impact: Engineers Building Sustainable Solutions

September 6, 2011

UC Merced graduate student Brandi McKuin recently returned from a trip to India, where she spent time studying the energy needs of rural villages that have been told by their government that they’ll never get electricity.

Her work was part of a larger project designed to find renewable energy and other sustainability-related solutions for those villages. And the project is a prime example of the work being done by Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), a research network now headquartered at UC Merced.

The largest electricity demand (in the villages) was for irrigation,” said McKuin, a San Joaquin Valley native. “The project will probably be focused on water conservation efforts — like drip irrigation — and finding the best way to power the irrigation pumps.”

Dan Hirleman, dean of the UC Merced School of Engineering and chair of the ESW advisory board, said the group’s vision is to improve the quality of life and the prosperity of the planet, but in a way that’s economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

The India project is just one example of work that will improve sustainability on both a global and local scale, and ESW is a natural fit for a campus that has made sustainability in both research and operations a high priority.

UC Merced has sustainability in its DNA,” Hirleman said. “So I think it’s an obvious home for a group like Engineers for a Sustainable World.”

Industry leaders in the San Joaquin Valley say they can see the benefit UC Merced's involvement in ESW could have both regionally and globally.

Sustainability of our water supply is a critical challenge facing the San Joaquin Valley and the world,” said Henrik Laursen, head of the Grundfos Water Technology Center in Fresno. “Grundfos is a pace-setter in sustainable water technology, and we are excited to see UC Merced taking a similar global leadership role in sustainable engineering. We look forward to partnering with them on regional and global initiatives.”

McKuin was an accountant in a Modesto law firm before deciding to study environmental engineering at UC Merced. Now, thanks to UC Merced and ESW, she’s working on projects that will benefit people around the world.

I take a lot of pride in UC Merced as a Valley native,” she said. “It’s going to enrich the lives of a lot of people who may not have the opportunity to go to school otherwise. I’m one of those people, and it’s really changed my life.”