Cadets Win State Design Contest and Head to Nationals

VWEA DesignLike David defeating Goliath, five VMI cadets were stunned when they claimed victory over a team of graduate students in a wastewater treatment design competition this past spring.  

On May 17, a group of civil engineering majors led by Maj. Tim Moore traveled to Richmond and won the Virginia Water Environment Association’s 2012 Student Design Competition with their design of a wastewater treatment system for a hospital in Baptiste, Haiti. The only other team entering this year was from Old Dominion University in Norfolk – and not only was that team made up of graduate students, but the head judge was a professor at ODU as well.

The winning group, made up of 1st Class cadets Tom Battiata, Peerawat Charuwat, Peter Kniesler, John Partin, and Patrick Sexton, traveled to New Orleans at the end of September to compete at the national level, again facing teams made up largely of graduate students. 

Moore had been involved with the humanitarian group Engineers Without Borders before he arrived at VMI two years ago. At VMI, he has continued that involvement, and he has also set a goal of increasing cadet participation in real-world problem-solving contests such as that sponsored by VWEA. He was already planning to take a group of cadets to Haiti during spring break when he heard about the VWEA’s contest. Moore quickly organized VMI’s team, and it just so happened that two of the cadets on the design team – Charuwat and Battiata – were already scheduled to go to Haiti.

“[This project] was a perfect fit for us,” said Moore. 

“It all just seemed to fall suspiciously into place,” Battiata concurred. He explained that the VMI team’s on-the-ground experience in Haiti, complete with photos, provided the winning edge over the ODU team. No one on that team had been to Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.

The group began its work with the knowledge that the water supply in a developing country is limited and the electrical grid is sometimes unreliable. With these constraints in mind, the cadets designed a gravity-fed system requiring only 10,000 gallons of water per day. Battiata noted that, by contrast, a typical large hospital in the United States can use up to 200,000 gallons per day. The system is powered by a series of small pumps running on electricity, but a backup system of solar panels can provide power when the electricity fails.

“It was as real-world as it gets. ... You have these austere conditions and you have to come up with a solution that fits those conditions,” said Sexton. “We tried to come up with as simple a design as possible.”

In that process, the cadets were aided by several professionals, including Brad Vanderwarker ’82, a colleague of Battiata’s father who has designed a wastewater treatment system for use in Haiti. Help also came from Stephanie Klaus, a former co-worker of Moore’s with expertise in the drafting program AutoCAD.

“It was a very elaborate design project for them, and they did a really great job,” said Moore of the cadets’ performance. “They put the level of responsibility and work into it that you would see from a professional engineer.”

–Mary Price 

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