Finding Sustainable Solutions

Ben is studying Sustainable Development (SD). What does SD mean, and how it is being implemented worldwide? See below for a more complete explanation of Ben's research topic.

Background on Ben

Ben is an Environmental Engineering major at Northwestern, with an interest in sustainability and renewable energy. He has traveled to Japan, Mexico, and Senegal with family and recently returned from Israel on a Birthright student trip. Ben has always loved the outdoors and is an avid skier. Ben hopes to someday use his environmental engineering degree to work with NGO’s in developing nations to improve the quality of drinking water and the standard of living through environmentally friendly applications. This summer, he was in Evanston conducting research on renewable energy as part of the Kimberly Gray Group. While at Northwestern, Ben has served as the Publicity Chair for the McCormick student advisory board hoping to improve the communication between student groups and facilitate student-administration relations. Much of his winter quarter is spent on the slopes as part of the Northwestern Club Ski Team. Competing in the Midwest region, Ben participated in both Slalom and Giant Slalom racing throughout the season. He been serving as the Social Chair of the team working to promote team unity. Ben is also a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. Serving as Derby Day’s Chair, he led a philanthropic event that raised $15,000 for Children’s Miracle Network. It was a rewarding experience that required him to both coordinate and promote both his fraternity and a large portion of the student body. Ben hopes that with his experience as a Foundation Scholar, he will be able to promote sustainable development worldwide and use it as a tool that can improve the lives of individuals.

Ben's Research Topic

As an environmental engineer, Ben aims to find solutions to creating a sustainable society while improving the lives of people within local communities. What does Sustainable Development (SD) mean and how is it being implemented worldwide? Ben plans a worldwide analysis of the many trial programs promoting SD in both developed and developing countries and how these programs work in various ways to meet the needs of a given community. Ben will look at the technology being developed to make communities sustainable, and the effects sustainablitity has on the local populations. Understanding SD and the implications it has for communities will provide insight into the most effective technologies and strategies for improving environmental and living conditions worldwide.

Itinerary of Circumnavigation (draft)

  • Ecuador
  • Ghana
  • England
  • Denmark
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Malaysia
GRANT: Ben is travelling as the 2011 Circumnavigator’s Club Foundation Around-the-World Travel-Study Grant recipient.  Each year one rising senior is chosen jointly by Northwestern University and the Circumnavigator’s Club Foundation to travel the world exploring a topic of her/his choosing.  The $9,000 award requires that the student travel to at least six countries on at least three continents.  For more information about the grant, please go to: The Undergrad Research Blogs are sponsored by the Office of the Provost. Ben has received additional support from the Institute of Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern and the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department

Estero del Platano

It has been roughly a week since I last posted and a lot of exciting things have gone on since then. On Monday and Tuesday, I spent my time at Yanapuma headquarters getting great interviews with Andy, the director, and Amelia, an intern at Yanapuma. From my interview with Andy, I got a good understanding of the reasoning behind the Foundation and the direction he hopes to take the Foundation in the future. During my interview with Amelia, I got the chance to hear how the Foundation has implemented projects in the small coastal community of Estero del Platano.

Finally it was time to head nine hours outside of Quito to Estero, a town of 600 who have been involved with Yanapuma since its founding in 2004. I took a night bus to Esmeraldas and then a 3 hour ride down the coast to Estero. At Estero, I met Jamie, an intern who is spending a year living in Estero, as well as Sonia, the mother of the home I homestayed in for a few nights. Sonia lived in a simple home with her husband, Afrain and her four children. They spoke very little english so communication was a challenge but we figured it out.

I spent my first morning helping Afrain with some gardening work and then spent the afternoon working with Jamie to get to know the town and help her with getting the word out to the community about a health care meeting that was taking place the next day. That night I got a tour of Yanapuma’s projects including a library, and most notably a water treatment facility that supplied the community with 20 liters of water for 25 cent. I got a taste of “pueblo” life when I crossed the river to head to Sonia’s for an evening conversation about the differences in our education system.

The next day was packed full of interviews with community members. I got to hear their opinion on Yanapuma, the work they were doing and what they wanted to see in the future. I really got a good taste of what the community saw as positive sustainable development and what they saw as an NGO pushing their own agenda. It was so interesting to see the discrepancies in how sustainable development is viewed and the importance placed on community oriented development.

Unfortunately, Jamie had to head to Quito so I was not able to do more interviews the next day and decided to head back to Quito with her. I will now spend the next few days finishing up my look at Yanapuma and then I am off to Singapore and Malaysia for the next leg of my trip. Finally, enjoy the pictures!

From Ecuador 1

A view of Quito

From Ecuador 1

Estero del Platano

From Ecuador 1

Part of my homestay family

A Weekend of Exploration

I could not have asked for better weather this weekend in Quito. Friday, I got the chance to explore the old city and see the city’s largest park, Parque El Ejido. The old city was beautiful and there is still so much to see. Hopefully I will be able to get back there before I leave the city.

Saturday, I joined some fellow travelers who were staying at my hostel for a two hour bus ride to Otavalo for one of Latin America’s most famous markets. The countryside was nice but the driver’s road rage was a little frightening at times. The market was filled with hand woven shirts and pants, beautiful pieces of art and some amazing street food. After the ride back to Quito, I met some travelers with similar interests to my own. One woman had been working in a health clinic in Peru for a month and another had spent the last six weeks working on an organic farm in rural Ecuador. We had an interesting conversation about development and the importance of community level activism.

On Sunday, I joined these same travelers for a trip to TelefiriQo. TeleferiQo is a 2.5 km tram that takes passengers up the Volcano Pichincha to Cruz Loma, which provides some of the best views of the city. At the top of the tram, we began hiking to a second lookout; however, the 4,100 m (more than 13,000 ft) starting height gave me some trouble and I decided to stay lower. I took a lower hiking route and stopped for an “almuerzos” at a small hut along the way. After coming down the mountain, I headed back to my hostel for the night as heavy rain rolled over the city.

As I type this, I am sitting in Yanapuma headquarters getting ready for a week of observation and interiews. My first interview will begin shortly with an intern who has spent her time focused on the community of Estero del Platano. I will follow this up with an interview with Andy Kirby, Director and Founder of Yanapuma. Unfortunately, I have been having some trouble posting pictures but will hopefully figure it out soon. Adios mi amigos.

The Journey Begins

I have now been in Ecuador for close to 24 hours and can truly say that Quito is an amazing city. My airport taxi got lost getting to my hostel so after getting out at the wrong place, I got the opportunity to walk around La Mariscal. I arrived at my hostel and spent the night getting to know the other travelers. After a long day of travel I was in bed quite early ready for my research to begin in the morning.

This morning, I made my way to Yanapuma Headquarters. Yanapuma Foundation is a local NGO working all over Ecuador in support of community empowerment and sustainable development. I got the chance to sit down with the director, Andy Kirby, and we decided that I would focus my research on a town called Estero del Plato, 8 hours south of Quito. Next week I will sit down with the Yanapuma staff and conduct interviews, and then make my way to Estero del Plato to oversee their work there and talk to community members.

This weekend, I plan to explore Quito and head to the Otavalo Market, a world famous market that happens every Saturday. Hopefully, I will have some great pictures to share with you and will try and post again soon.

The Beginning

“When we build, let us build as if it would last forever.”
—John Ruskin

When I began this journey in mid-January, I was flooded with flights, insurance, vaccinations, train tickets, research proposals, and a number of other logistical tasks to cross off the list before I could actually get on my way. That day is almost upon me, and as my excitement rises and my first departure date creeps closer and closer, I can’t help but think about how this journey will change me forever and how it will hopefully allow me to “through friendship, leave the world a little better than we found it” (the Circumnavigator Club’s creed). As I embark on this journey I will face new challenges, meet new people, encounter different cultures, and learn a lot about sustainable development and myself along the way.

I am thankful everyday for this amazing opportunity to study something I am passionate about and to hopefully use this research to move the sustainable development movement further on its path to building a world that will last forever. As I wrestle with the proposed direction for the economy, society, and the environment, join me for this journey as I seek the solutions for our healthy development and experience the world and its many treasures.