When it comes to international scientific research and humanitarian effort, few organizations carry as much clout as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In December, 2014, the University of Utah announced a significant partnership with USAID-funded Partner Center for Advanced Studies in Water [PCASW] in Pakistan.
The USAID project is a 10 million dollar undertaking, with 2 million dollars in funding allocated for the center every year over the course of five years. The project involves more than fifteen faculty members just from the University of Utah, and will support a number of students and administrative staff for the center.
USAID, through funding by the American public, will be setting up three separate centers in Pakistan that will cover food security, water and energy. In order to help each of these centers develop strong education and research programs, USAID designated institutions in the United States to partner with the Pakistan locations. The University of Utah was selected as the U.S. center that will aid the water center at the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology [MUET].
The University of Utah will be working with partner institutions for the project including Colorado State University, City University of New York, The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Stockholm Environment Institute, and UNESCO.
The University of Utah side of the project is being led by Steve Burian and Tariq Banuri. Burian who is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering as well as Associate Director of the Global Change and Sustainability Center [GCSC] at the university, has worked on a number of USAID-funded projects in the past including a proposed project in India that is still under consideration.
Burian and Banuri teamed when they found out that USAID was taking applications for the Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies on Water. Burian has experience working on water projects including international research through the Global Change and Sustainability Center, and believed that the University of Utah was the perfect fit for the USAID project.
“Tariq and I got together and decided to pursue the opportunity because we thought it was a great fit,” Burian said. “We got together a team that spans partners from across the country from different universities as well as international partners from the Stockholm Environment Institute and UNESCO among others, as well as more than a dozen experts from across campus.”
With the University of Utah successfully confirmed as the partnering university of the PCASW project, efforts have been under way to nail down the specifics of the project moving forward, with the overall objective being the successful set up of a self-reliant, fully operational water center in Pakistan.
“The goal of the project is to advance the water education and research programs in Pakistan with our focus being to help MUET become an international leader in water education and research,” Burian said.
The University of Utah will be focusing on four key graduate programs with MUET: water and sanitation, hydraulics and irrigation, integrated water resources and management, and environmental engineering.
“We will be helping MUET to develop research programs that fit within these themed areas that will integrate with the curriculum,” Burian said. “This will help them to train graduate students with a research program integrated that will help them to get a better education.”
One of the other areas in which the project will be focused will be gender equity. Says Burian “It’s an international problem trying to get women into engineering, and we do a lot of work to try and improve that here at the University of Utah. So we will be taking some of our ideas and programs and working with the Women’s Resource Center and the Society of Women Engineers here on campus in conjunction with Pakistan’s programs to implement similar programs.”
Banuri is especially interested in working with local entities to help bring about gender equality within the engineering program while still tailoring it to cultural practices.
“Tariq Banuri is very well connected, with a great international network in Pakistan, so he is working to create a relationship with different groups that can help us,” Burian said. “In the U.S. we have a number of national women’s groups, but over there they are much more focused, much more strategic in what they do.”
The additional two aspects of the partnership with the University of Utah will be center sustainability and university exchanges.
The exchange program will consist of experts coming from Pakistan to the University of Utah and its partnering Universities to take non-traditional courses on water research within specific fields.
Ramesh Goel, Associate Professor and Graduate Director of the Civil and Environmental Engineering program at the University of Utah, will be one of the faculty contributing to the project. His expertise will be applied to working with waste matter treatment, nutrient recovery and water quality.
According to Goel the opportunity for hands-on research through the exchange aspect of the PCASW program will be one of the key aspects to creating a successful graduate program at MUET.
“With the students from Pakistan visiting, there will be a great training component, because with not only students, but faculty members coming here, and with us going over there to train faculty members, the idea is to make the infrastructure sustainable there so they can conduct independent research in the future,” Goel said. “Environmental pollution, water scarcity and water pollution are not just local issues, they are global issues. So this center will help students to become global leaders in their field.”
“If the University of Utah is to become an international organization, we must become global leaders by engaging ourselves in global issues,” Goel said. “I think that’s where international engagement such as this is a necessity.”
Exchanges will likely focus on two areas, one providing the opportunity to help develop the graduate programs at MUET, but also the opportunity to provide courses that can improve faculty teaching techniques.
“They have a lot of interest in teaching, and we have a strength in the effectiveness of our engineering education,” Burian said. “We had a program that we just started called ‘The Wasatch Experience’ which myself, Tariq, Dan McCool and others on campus helped to put together. This program helps the teachers here to get better at teaching sustainability within their individual programs. So we plan to do something similar for the professors at MUET and other institutions of higher learning in Pakistan.”
The exchange portion of the program mandates that at least 50 exchanges take place over the course of the project; however, Burian believes the number of exchanges that will actually take place will likely exceed that mandate.
Some of the problems Pakistan is dealing with right now regarding their water supply are surface water contamination, lack of sanitary engineering, and the lack of a proper sewage system. These are the issues U.S. populations were facing as little as 30 years ago. Much of the progress that has been made here in the U.S. since the Clean Water Acts of 1978 will not only be similar to the progress that is hoped to be made in Pakistan, but critically for educational purposes, it will be observable.
“The beauty of what we can learn from Pakistanis that they don’t have the systems that exist in our part of the world,” Ramesh Goel said. “It will be an excellent opportunity to use what we learn there for model purposes for education. So instead of simply telling a student from one of my classes what we did in 1970s, I can instead show them that same process in action that took place slowly here in the United States.”
Goel said that much of what we can learn here in the U.S. from this venture will be about water conservation. Many countries, including Pakistan have much more limited water supplies than we do here. So while the U.S. may be decades ahead of them in terms of water treatment and sanitation, we are more lacking in terms of conservation.
“Often, here in the United States we tend to waste a lot of water, however in South Asia they often don’t waste as much, which is something we can learn from and integrate into our own society,” Goel said. “Water treatment is not always the solution. If we learned to conserve water waste and use, then we would have a lot less waste water to treat, but to do that we need to learn those lessons from societies in Asia like Pakistan. So those are the lessons I think we can bring back home.”
“Our goal is to affect change with several things for the better for Pakistan’s water education programs,” Burian said. “We want to help them have a broader water and engineering program that relies on much more practical and relevant education research.”
What this will mean for the PCASW program is that there will be a very heavy emphasis on hands-on research.
Says Burian. “We want to help the Pakistanis make partnerships with communities and other research entities to address problems relevant to Pakistan. We want them to become a problem solving entity there. Our hope is that in five years MUET is looked upon as the place people go to when they have a problem, knowing MUET has the capacity to aid them. We’re very excited to not only help Pakistan do this, but also to create our own energy and momentum in water research. We hope to create an entity that not only helps us individually, but also becomes a hub for others at the university to come and work in water. This whole concept of working together within global engagement is very exciting in what we hope will be a big impact.”