Dr. Bruce Berdanier to lead the School of Engineering

I’ve been working in Haiti since 1995 at Hospital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Deschapelles. The hospital was built as a state-of-the-art hospital in the 1950s, but all of its environmental systems (sanitary sewer collection lines, wastewater and water treatment, etc.) were deteriorated or non-functional.

First, I completed an engineering feasibility study. Then, with funding from the Swiss government, HAS expanded and rebuilt the sanitary sewerage and water distribution pumps, created a chlorinated water treatment system, installed a new hospital incinerator, and rehabilitated the wastewater plant. We have worked with the HAS engineering group over the years to plan and develop the deep well water supply system for the hospital. I have also worked with the HAS community development group in the local communities to rebuild spring box collection and distribution systems for the local communities. In 2011 our family foundation planned and funded the construction of a reservoir for the community of Les Forges, which is adjacent to HAS.

I’ve taken a lot of students to Bolivia over the past three years as part of a national engineering development group called Engineers Without Borders. We have been working at a branch campus of the Catholic University of Bolivia called Unidad Academica Campesina in Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP). I have a five year commitment to them to study and build solutions to their environmental problems. The UAC-CP started in 1994 with about 50 students, and now they have about 700 students. They have no sanitation facilities in the community although the university has built some septic tank treatment systems for their buildings. The community people and the university students had quite a bit of stomach distress due to contaminated water. We just completed the installation of a chlorination system for the UAC-CP upper campus in December 2012. This summer, my wife Melinda and I traveled with two undergraduate mechanical engineering students from Fairfield and four undergraduate civil engineering students from South Dakota State University, and we began the design of a second chlorination system to serve the lower UAC-CP campus.

You also had a Fulbright Research Scholarship in Jordan. How did that come about?

In 2005, when I was teaching at Ohio Northern University, I wrote a proposal to do water quality research on the River Jordan. I worked with a team of researchers from Mutah University in Jordan that included a former graduate student, and my wife and two sons traveled with me to Jordan. We lived in Mutah for six months and never actually received permission to complete the study on the Jordan River due to access restrictions. The concentrations of organics, nutrients, metals, etc. are very high in this river, as all of the countries in the area capture all of the rainwater that they can. The water remaining in the Jordan River consists mostly of wastewater treatment plant effluent, saltwater springs, and irrigation return flows. We successfully collected dust samples from rural and urban areas, and analyzed metals concentrations in tree bark and lichen. Although we could not complete the direct study of the Jordan River, we were able to determine where the metals in the water were coming from. We ended up publishing five or six articles about that work.

It was a terrific six months. Melinda (a literacy specialist), and our two sons, who were in high school and college at the time, took a semester off to come along. Our younger son is very fair and had long, red hair at the time, so he attracted a bit of attention!

Your family made a major move from South Dakota to Fairfield. What has been the most challenging part of that move?

The traffic and I-95! It will certainly take some time for us to feel at ease in the traffic in and around Fairfield.

There’s a much faster pace of life here. Ohio, where I grew up, is fairly relaxed, and South Dakota is even more so. We’ve also downsized from a large house with a lot of acreage to a much smaller home on a suburban lot. Melinda and I really like our home in Fairfield, and we love traveling on the trains. We’ve gone into New York and made our way around on the subways. It has always been one of my dreams to live in or near a large city like New York, to utilize the public transportation, and to experience this style of life. We really feel blessed to have this opportunity to be part of Fairfield University, the Fairfield community, and the whole region.

I have wanted to try the deanship for an engineering school for a number of years, and we are really excited about the possibilities.

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