New Villanova Service Learning Opportunities on the Horizon in Panama

Tomas Peredez, Dr. Rob Traver, Ethan Henbest ‘15, Carla Windt ‘15, Prof. Frank Falcone and two members from the City of Knowledge.
From left to right: Tomas Peredez, Dr. Rob Traver, Ethan Henbest ‘15, Carla Windt ‘15, Prof. Frank Falcone and two members from the City of Knowledge.

The relationship between Villanova University’s College of Engineering and Panama started with Father Wally Kasuboski, a priest in the tiny village of Wacuco, and dates back to the early 1990s. Over the years, faculty and students have helped to build churches, chapels and water distribution systems in support of Father Wally’s mission to help the people of Panama live longer, healthier lives. 

Earlier this year, Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Robert Traver, PhD, PE, WRE, MSCE ’82 and his colleagues, Assistant Professor Frank Falcone ’73 MSCE and Associate Professor Bridget Wadzuk, PhD, ’00 CE, traveled to Panama for a visit to follow up on current projects and identify future work.

Like many other Central American countries, Panama experiences a dry season between the months of January and April. During this period, the country has little or no access to clean water. As part of a capstone senior design course, Civil and Environmental Engineering students are developing a Water Resource Master Plan (WRMP), which will be the first of its kind in Central America. The goal of this multi-year project is to provide clean, potable water to a population of 8,000 based in the Canazas region of Panama. The community has already started to see improvements in accessible water in recent years. Pleased with the progress thus far, Falcone comments, “When you provide a community with clean water, everything improves: Health, the economy and the quality of life.”

In addition to reviewing the progress of the WRMP, this latest visit also included a conference presentation for Drs. Traver and Wadzuk. “Planning for a Rainy Day” was shared with the Mayor’s Office of Panama and the City of Knowledge (COK), a concentration of innovative firms, international development organizations, and academic and research institutions.

The Mayor’s Office & the COK learned about new technologies for collecting and reusing stormwater. Dr. Traver shared his goal of developing a green infrastructure approach to sustainable stormwater management, and discussed strategies for runoff management. The benefits of “capture and reuse” were also addressed, which includes the use of rain gardens to help offset excess water, a project the COK is currently working on.

In addition to these current projects, Falcone met with Father Wally and learned of his interest  in having Villanova engineering students design a new school for the city of Torti, which will benefit nearly 500 children. “This may be an excellent opportunity for a future capstone design course,” Falcone notes.

Panama will offer numerous service learning opportunities in the coming years. In addition to Father Wally’s school, other projects under consideration include plans to raise a dam, repair a bridge, and fix a break pressure tank. Collaboration between Villanova students and students at Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá and Universidad Católica Santa María also was discussed. “These projects will provide students with great opportunities to gain technical expertise, as well as to see things from different perspectives,” says Dr. Traver.

As a result of their meetings, the Vice Mayor of Panama, Raisa Banfield, along with several members of her staff, will be traveling to Villanova for a visit in late April. This will allow them to observe some of Dr. Traver’s current work in the storm water arena both on campus and in the city of Philadelphia. The group hopes to take the lessons learned at Villanova and apply some of the same practices in Panama.

With so much activity in Panama, Dr. Traver and Falcone are considering developing a steering committee named VIP–which stands for “Villanova in Panama.” This committee will help to manage the scope and timing of all projects.

“We have a large alumni chapter in Panama, and many of those former students have reached out to let us know that they are interested in working together to help their country,” notes Dr. Traver. “We all share a common goal, to move the country forward, and with all of this support, we know we can continue to make a difference.”