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William Cunningham

Project Title

Human-Centered Design with Haiti

Project Description

Under the guidance of Professors Taflanidis and Kijewski-Correa, my research team studies clean water access in Léogâne, Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake, my professors founded Engineering2Empower (E2E), an organization that partners with local community members through groups called “innovation clubs” to solve problems related to safe housing and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). My team’s problem statement is simple: “Dirty water makes people sick.” We conducted field research in Fall 2018 and I presented this research at the 2019 Human Development Conference. Nearly all of the photos and videos in this presentation, available here, were taken by Haitians through a mobile survey developed by our team. Currently, our team is piloting a community self-reporting program that uses GPS mapping of GI illnesses to identify contaminated water sources and report them to the local community.

Department Affiliation

Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

Courses Related to My Project

In Fall 2018, I took the course International Development in Practice with Professor Steve Reifenberg. In this course, students are arranged into interdisciplinary Development Advisory Teams (DATs) that serve as researchers and consultants for nonprofit and development organizations throughout the world. My DAT worked with Sherlock Knowledge Hub, a child malnutrition-focused startup led by social entrepreneur Gisela Solymos. We conducted research to evaluate a potential market for a service that would assist small-scale nutrition organization with data collection and analytics. More information about this project is available here.


In Spring 2018, I took Heart's Desire and Social Change with Father Dan Groody. The central theme of this class was "How do the deepest longings of my heart connect to the deepest needs of the world?" — simple, right? In my final paper for the class, I used music — a choir, specifically — as a metaphor for my life journey.

Business/Entrepreneurship Opportunities

By Spring 2020, my team and I hope to develop a prototype that — along with our partners in Léogâne — we can implement in a market-sustainable way. Last year, another student on the E2E team developed a prototype toilet that would better address the sanitation needs of the Léogâne community. She later collaborated with the Notre Dame IDEA Center to create a business model that helped get her prototype to market. My team, focused on clean water access, hopes to leverage the University’s resources in a similar way.

Global Perspective

In October 2018 my team traveled to Léogâne to conduct field work which included focus groups, a mobile survey, and a brainstorming session with members of the Innovation Clubs. Throughout the year, our team communicates with E2E’s Haitian staff members and the innovation clubs to coordinate further research and prototype new ideas.

In addition to my research in Haiti, I spent Summer 2018 working at a children’s home in Trujillo, Honduras called La Finca del Niño [Farm of the Child] through the International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP). During my 10 weeks at La Finca, I taught 8th- and 9th-grade Math and English and special education.

Community Engagement

My research in Léogâne is closely connected with social consciousness and community engagement. First, we hope for our research to directly benefit the community by reducing the rate at which Haitians contract GI illnesses as a result of contaminated water. Secondly, and equally important, the research itself is conducted in true partnership with the community. Members of the innovation clubs both conduct research and are involved in designing the research itself. My relationships with friends and coworkers from both Haiti and Honduras have helped me grow in perspective and humility, shaping who I am as a person and as an engineer.