April 1, 2008 — A water purification system designed by two University of Virginia students has been selected as one of the 100 "Projects for Peace" to be funded by centenarian philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis.
Eric Harshfield, 21, of Roanoke, Va., and Ana Jemec, 20, of Greer, S.C., both third-year chemical engineering students at U.Va., proposed a sustainable water purification project for Venda, South Africa.
"I was very excited," said Harshfield. "This is a wonderful opportunity to do research and make a difference in the community."
Jemec, who said she was "pleasantly surprised" by the project's acceptance, said she wanted to research sustainable development, and this project puts her work in a global-development context.
Harshfield, the son of Mary and James Harshfield of Roanoke, is a member of Engineering Students Without Borders, a student-run global development organization, the Virginia Unitarian Universalist Students and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He also participated in Alternative Spring Break.
Jemec, the daughter of Marjan and Nika Jemec, is an intern in the International Studies Office, a language consultant at the Center for American English Language and Culture, a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, a Sunday school teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, and has been involved with Habitat for Humanity building projects.
Harshfield and Jemec plan to build a sustainable surface water filtration system of sand, ultraviolet light and aeration using local materials. The area in which they will work has limited ground water and the surface water is contaminated.
Harshfield, who worked in the same area of South Africa last year, said the project offers an opportunity to use his chemical engineering experience to assist with sustainable development.
Jemec interned last year with an environmental engineering firm and said she will combine what she learned there with her engineering studies to solve a major problem for this area.
"I'm impressed with their diligence and their initiative," said Robert J. Swap, associate professor for research in U.Va.'s environmental sciences department. "Both come from strong service backgrounds, and they are coupling that with their engineering skills."
Swap, who first brought Harshfield to South Africa and who developed the South Africa and Virginia Networks and Associations to encourage collaborative research, praised the pair for their approach to the problem.
"They have created a low-tech solution by blending existing technology," said Swap, who plans to visit Harshfield and Jemec while they are conducting their research this summer.
Apart from building the filtration system, Harshfield and Jemec will conduct seminars on the proper use and preservation of water, and work with four students from the University of Venda who will assist community members in maintaining the system.
Kathryn Davis, a philanthropist and the widow of Shelby Cullom Davis, a businessman and former United States ambassador to Switzerland, put up $1 million in each of the past two years to fund 100 "Projects for Peace."
The Davis United World College Scholars Program, which administers the Projects for Peace program, offers no clear definition of what makes a peace project and encourages students to use their imaginations to determine their projects and to encourage "creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship."
"We leave it up to the students to define what a 'project for peace' might be," the organization's Web site says. "We hope to encourage creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship."
This is the second year Davis has funded the program. Last year's projects, which were carried out during the summer, included a domestic violence prevention program in the United States; a musical exchange program in Israel; promoting multi-ethnic education in China; an oral history program in Afghanistan; a child development center in Pakistan; and promoting peace through education in Uganda. At the end of the project, students must submit a written report to Davis Projects for Peace.
U.Va. is one of 85 schools eligible for Project for Peace funds because it participates in the Davis United World Scholars Program, which provides higher education scholarships to students who attend the United World Colleges, a series of international high schools around the world.
"The Davis 'Projects for Peace' is an exciting program that resonated with U.Va. students," said Lucy S. Russell, director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence. "There was a lot of interest, and we received many wonderful proposals.
"I am delighted that the foundation will be supporting Eric and Ana's water filtration project. They are terrific students and well-equipped to carry out this important project."