Montana State University

MSU receives national award recognizing student efforts to bring clean water to Kenya

November 14, 2011 -- Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

Montana State University has been named the winner of the prestigious C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award, which recognizes a public university for its outreach and community engagement efforts. MSU was recognized for the contributions its students have made in bringing clean water to a region in Kenya. MSU students are pictured here in Kenya as they train community members about composting. Photo courtesy of Dolan Personke.    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
Montana State University today was named the winner of the prestigious C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, beating out some of the largest universities in the nation. Montana State was recognized for the contributions its students have made in bringing clean water to a region in Kenya through the work of the MSU chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

The Magrath award was presented at the APLU's annual meeting in San Francisco. Given just once a year, the award recognizes a four-year public university that embraces outreach and community engagement and comes with a $20,000 prize.

"It's a tremendous honor to be recognized by your peers as having an outstanding engagement program," said Paul F. Hassen, vice president of public affairs at the APLU. "This is a unique award and the only one presented at our annual meeting."

MSU competed for the award against three other finalists: Michigan State's 10-year effort to help epilepsy patients in Zambia; the redevelopment projects of Penn State architecture students in Pittsburgh and the efforts of faculty and students at the University of Tennessee to help a Burundian immigrant community adapt to Knoxville. The three finalist schools have significantly larger enrollments than MSU: Michigan State enrolls nearly 48,000 students; Penn State has more than 45,000 on its flagship campus and more than 95,000 system-wide; and the University of Tennessee enrolls approximately 27,500 students. MSU's fall enrollment is 14,153.

The award is both meaningful and significant, said MSU President Waded Cruzado.

"I am extremely proud of our students, who have shown tremendous dedication to their work in Kenya," Cruzado said. "Their efforts are an inspiring example of how outreach and service can impact the lives of others in a truly meaningful way.

"Receiving the Magrath award indicates that Montana State University is fulfilling its land-grant mission," Cruzado continued. "It is a great privilege and responsibility to serve as Montana's original land-grant university, and we will continue to work hard to honor this tradition."

MSU plans to use the $20,000 that comes with the award to pilot new programs. Those programs will enable faculty teams from many different disciplines to develop outreach-focused coursework and mentor students, according to the award application.

"EWB's (Engineers Without Borders') primary mission necessitates a long-term commitment and cultural exchange between MSU students and the Khwisero region in Kenya," said Doug Steele, MSU vice president for external affairs and director of Extension. EWB's work differs significantly from many development projects in that it is committed to working with a region in Africa for what could be decades.

MSU students and EWB members Katie Ritter and Kiera McNelis traveled to San Francisco to attend the awards ceremony. They said the award is a great vote of confidence and the accompanying funds will help further EWB's work.

"The students in our group have such a passion for development work and for helping people," Ritter said. "To be nationally recognized for what we do is amazing."

McNelis explained that the $20,000 prize that will go to MSU may be used for a wider range of purposes than money EWB raises through fundraisers. Those funds are limited due to tax restrictions and other considerations.

"We view this as a really big step for our organization," McNelis said. "The funds will allow us to develop new courses and expand opportunities here at MSU, which will further our work in Kenya. It will also provide a platform for more professors to get involved."

EWB is recognized as being one of the most ambitious and most successful student-led organizations in the university's history, with more than 60 active students representing every college within the university. To date, the group has raised nearly $500,000 to further its efforts -- including more than $200,000 in grants, awards or donations this year alone.

EWB at MSU is committed to bringing clean drinking water to 61 schools in Khwisero, Kenya, a project that could take decades. Since 2004, more than 80 MSU students from many disciplines and majors have traveled to the region in western Kenya, where they have built seven deep-water wells and 10 composting latrines in an effort to decrease the rate of waterborne illnesses. The students have designed a distribution pipeline to link one of the wells to additional schools, a health clinic and a market, and they have surveyed thousands of individuals and families about their water habits and needs. EWB at MSU estimates that more than 3,500 students and teachers in Kenya have been impacted by the efforts.

The group's work helps empower young students, especially girls, who are forced to spend hours each day collecting water for their families. As a result of the new wells, students spend less time walking to get water and more time in the classroom.

In addition, EWB at MSU has developed peripheral projects benefiting various communities in Montana, including Native American tribes.

"The work these students do is humbling," said Otto Stein, one of EWB at MSU's faculty advisers. "They are dedicated and hard working -- literally devoting thousands of volunteer hours to improving the lives of people in Kenya. I am continually amazed and impressed by their efforts."

Among several letters of support that accompanied the group's award application was one from Ronald Omyonga, an architect from Nairobi, Kenya, who wrote an initial proposal to the national Engineers Without Borders organization in 2003 and visited MSU in 2009. Omyonga wrote that he has been impressed by the dedication and hard work of MSU students and faculty.

"To say the least, I was amazed at just how much work the students and faculty put in every week to ensure that the life-changing work in Khwisero continues," Omyonga wrote. "I felt very challenged that such young people and busy people...could dedicate so much time.... I felt challenged to encourage my community and myself to do more to assist these dedicated people who have come to our aid. And most importantly, to do some more for ourselves."

EWB at MSU has received numerous recognitions for its efforts, including the EWB-USA Premiere Chapter Award and the Community Mediation Peacekeeper Award. Earlier this fall, EWB at MSU also was selected as one of four regional winners of the 2011 Outreach Scholarship/W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Award. The award was given by the APLU at the 12th Annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference in East Lansing, Mich., and was accompanied by a $5,000 prize.

EWB at MSU was one of 15 MSU projects that helped the university earn the Carnegie Foundation's community engagement classification in January. The classification brings national recognition to MSU's commitment to teaching that encourages volunteer service in communities and the spreading of knowledge that benefits the public.

MSU currently enjoys two Carnegie classifications. It is one of only 311 universities with the community engagement classification and is one of only 108 universities with a "very high level of research activity" out of roughly 4,400 colleges and universities nationally.

Established in 2006, the Outreach Scholarship and Magrath University Community Engagement Awards recognize four-year public universities that have redesigned their learning, discovery and engagement functions to become more closely and productively involved with their communities. The Magrath Award is made possible by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and is named for C. Peter Magrath, APLU president from 1992-2005 and a leading advocate for public universities embracing the concept of outreach and community engagement.

APLU is the nation's oldest higher education association, dedicated to research and advocacy for public research universities, land-grant institutions, and state university systems. Member campuses enroll more than 3.6 million undergraduate and 1.1 million graduate students, employ more than 670,000 faculty and administrators, and conduct nearly two-thirds of all university-based research, totaling more than $34 billion annually. For more information, visit

For other stories on EWB at MSU read:

Engineers Without Borders at MSU one of four finalists for $20,000 national award," May 13, 2011

"MSU students work toward ambitious goal in Kenya," Feb. 7, 2011

"Engineers Without Borders partner to speak Wednesday at MSU," Jan. 19, 2009

"Students raise $30,000 in one night for clean water in Kenya," March 14, 2008

"Water's Burden," from the Spring 2007 issue of Mountains & Minds

"Kenya offers lessons for MSU students," April 15, 2007

"MSU students overcome obstacles to help Kenyan school," May 22, 2006

"MSU engineering students plan to bring water to Kenyan village," Feb. 8, 2005

Contact: Otto Stein, EWB at MSU faculty adviser, (406) 994-6121,; Doug Steele, (406) 994-3293 or; Tom Calcagni, University Communications, (703) 474-2692 or