In December 2014, The University of Utah, in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development [USAID], announced a $10 million, five-year project to bring a Partner Center for Advanced Studies in Water [PCASW] to Pakistan.
Since the announcement of the project, significant progress has been made in the development of the program’s curriculum and course structure for the educational aspect of the center that will be partnered with Mehran University of Engineering and Technology [MUET] in Pakistan.
Ramesh Goel is an Associate Professor and Graduate Director for the University of Utah’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. His work at the University of Utah focuses on three specific areas, nutrient and wastewater recovery-based treatment, surface water quality, and microbiology.
“During year one [of the PCASW project] I am helping to develop environmental engineering courses and the curriculum at MUET,” Goel said. “We’ve worked extensively to choose what courses and topics that should be included, and selected what core courses should be developed across the disciplines such as health, water resources, and environmental engineering.”
A team of faculty from the University of Utah visited Pakistan in June 2015, to conduct a teaching workshop. While there, they were able to discuss the planned curriculum and the layout for credit hour requirements for the offered programs.
“The courses I’m helping with will primarily focus on water, wastewater treatment, ecology, and microbiology courses,” Goel said. At its core, Goel’s work meets on the intersection of environmental engineering and environmental biology, helping to create a curriculum that focuses on practical, sustainable water treatment for the region.
“Waste water is normally regarded as just waste, but it is also a resource. The goal is to see how to make waste water treatment energy neutral, and how to recover important resources from it,” Goel said. “I come from the region, so I know a lot of the problems that exist there, as well as the cultural values, and what environmental sustainability is needed there. The water issues we addressed in the 70s and 80s here in the United States are what they are facing in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh now.”
While more than 40% of the surface water in the United States remains contaminated, the country has made significant strides in water treatment since the Clean Water Act of 1977. The goal of the PCASW is to help Pakistan and the surrounding region make similar improvements in the coming years.
Goel explained that much wastewater can contain valuable resources that can potentially be recovered during the treatment process and put to good use in other areas such as being processed into fertilizer. With research history into ecological water environments such as Utah Lake, the Great Salt Lake wetlands, and the Jordan River, Goel hopes that his work will prove useful in addressing the issues currently prevalent in Pakistan’s water supply.
“In areas such as Pakistan the surface water contaminants are more prominent because of issues such as industrialization and urbanization,” Goel said. “This causes river pollution and surface water pollution, and they need to be able to look into those issues more closely.”
One of the most important aspects Goel hopes to tackle with the curriculum development at MUET in Pakistan is the idea of simple, sustainable treatment systems. While the United States has made advanced leaps in water treatment in recent history, his goal is to put in place the basic foundational treatment systems that will allow for further research and growth in the future rather than trying to recreate more advanced treatment systems currently in use in the U.S.
“We can not go into this with fancy ideas and nanotechnology. My research addresses fundamental forms of wastewater treatment,” Goel said. “Just looking at the microbiological quality of their drinking water, or creating cost-effective, energy-efficient treatment systems; these aspects of my research integrate very well with what is needed there in Pakistan.”
The ultimate goal of the PCASW project is to create a self-sustainable research center in Pakistan. With this in mind, a number of courses across the disciplines there will focus on sustainability efforts to help maintain the center and its research even after the 5 year USAID funding is over.
With sustainability being such a broad concept that requires a significant, multifaceted effort to maintain, Goel believes that the best way to start is through simple inspection and working at the most basic level from the ground up.
“We really need to look at the existing state of the infrastructure there before we can decide how to go about making it sustainable,” Goel said. “We must observe where the current system stands in regards to water, health, and freshwater availability. Only then can we address the issue of sustainability by addressing things like pollution, water treatment, and public awareness.”
In addition to the aid and development Goel hopes to bring to Pakistan through the PCASW project, he believes there is the potential for significant academic impact back at the University of Utah as well. Not only will the development of new environmental engineering and sustainability curriculum be beneficial to the faculty involved, but the research opportunities presented by the region are also highly beneficial.
“Exchange programs such as this allow for research opportunities you don’t normally get,” Goel said. “Access to areas like this with many polluted rivers can act as model environmental systems that can be used for additional study and research.”
Ultimately, Goel said the final objective for the entire University of Utah team involved in the PCASW center is to develop a team of sustainability-minded engineering students and faculty that can help propel Pakistan into becoming a shining beacon of water research and sustainability for the entire region.
“The overarching goal is to convey the knowledge that we have here to help create a robust environmental engineering program there,” Goel said. “We want to prepare engineers who are not only engineers but ambassadors and global thinkers. We want them to not only be able to solve local problems but be able to address global issues as well.”