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The Flip Side of Rebuilding Infrastructure: Engineering with Neighbors

AUTHOR: Nina Welding

PUBLISHED: October 12, 2016

According to Alicia Czarnecki, a senior studying environmental engineering at the University of Notre Dame, there’s a side to community-engaged work that you might only get to see if you’re a student working as part of an initiative like the Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem. It may take you out of your comfort zone, you’ll definitely get your hands dirty, and your life will be forever changed. Projects like this have to do with collaboration, cooperation, and contributing to the common good … very much like the Notre Dame mission.

Bowman Creek is a major tributary to the St. Joseph River in South Bend, Ind. The waterway begins as Auten Ditch and flows above and below ground through the city, particularly the Southeast Neighborhood. Challenges surrounding what should be picturesque part of the area include combined sewer overflows, E. Coli contamination, and other water pollution, all of which interrupt the flow of the creek and pose a safety risk to residents in the Bowman Creek neighborhood.

Bowman CreekFor the last two years Notre Dame students have been working with city officials, the Southeast Neighborhood, and students from other area educational institutions to address these challenges and find solutions. Czarnecki served as the team leader for the Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem Summer 2016 team. She and 22 other interns from six South Bend educational institutions worked on nine different projects focused on implementing smart green infrastructure and data-driven community development solutions. These projects included designing and building “smart” rain gardens to capture and filter storm water (up to 1,000 gallons of water for every two inches of rainfall) and installing a moisture sensor system to track how the green infrastructure behaves, creating a vacant lot optimization tool to inform city officials and neighborhood organizations on best reuse of vacant lots, working with the neighbors to design a park mural, building a little free library, and working with local high schools to incorporate environmental monitoring using Arduino technology. Each of the projects helps the city save money and increase efficiency, boosts city-resident engagement, and helps local students learn and grow.

Bowman Creek“It is exciting to work with such a diverse and talented team alongside a very passionate neighborhood association to do meaningful work that produces tangible results,” says Czarnecki. “The diversity of the team and working with the city, high schools, universities, and local business partners emphasizes that there is a community outside the 'bubble' of the college, and it was very rewarding to be part of helping that community thrive.”

For a complete list summer 2016 team members and detailed project descriptions, visit https://bowmancreek.org.