News

May 4, 2006

Matt Verbyla ’06 Awarded Fulbright to Improve Honduran Water System

His work will begin next Jan. and end in Sept.

Matt Verbyla ’06 (Unionville, Conn.), a civil engineering major with a minor in Spanish, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to examine the challenges of managing, operating, and maintaining community-owned water systems in rural villages in Honduras.

He will work with local authorities and organizations in regions that have developed Water Board Associations (WBAs).

WBAs are responsible for the local water systems and are comprised of elected officials from small villages. They hold monthly meetings with local authorities such as the Honduran Water and Sewer Authority, the Health Ministry, and the Honduran Forest Service; as well as non-government entities such as international aid groups that work in the region to discuss water and sanitation-related issues.

During the trip, Verbyla will assess the WBAs efficiency in improving the water conditions.

“I will use the experience gained from this Fulbright Fellowship to develop guidelines that can be a resource for other regions that have not yet established Water Board Associations, as well as non-governmental organizations, mission groups, and service organizations (such as chapters of Engineers Without Borders) that come from outside of Honduras to support water and sanitation development projects,” says Verbyla.

The project will include work at the University of San Pedro Sula, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where Verbyla plans to take courses in education, communication, culture, and politics. In addition, he will have the opportunity to work with students from Honduras who are interested in engineering.

Verbyla will conduct fieldwork starting with the Yoro region, a community he is familiar with through his involvement with Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

“I hope to provide a resource to service-learning and outreach organizations that do work in Honduras,” he adds. “Sometimes, when international service groups and/or missionaries are not aware of local models of sustainability, success, and practices, they may tend to impose the models that they are familiar with (from the United States or from whatever country or culture the service group is from). I hope to gain an understanding of the local models of success and sustainability for water and sanitation systems in Honduras.”

As the co-founder of Lafayette’s EWB chapter, Verbyla’s involvement in community service inspired this endeavor.

“I think service-learning experiences such as EWB can be a great experience for students,” he explains. “It is a chance to build cultural awareness, utilize multidisciplinary concepts learned in the classroom, and assist communities that struggle to achieve basic water and sanitation services.”

Verbyla praises Lafayette faculty for his successful college career.

“Professor [David] Brandes and Professor [Sharon] Jones from civil and environmental engineering have been particularly helpful with supporting my efforts and helping me achieve my goals through Engineers Without Borders.

“In my Spanish courses, Professor [Denise] Galarza-Sepulveda has been a big influence by inspiring my interest and enthusiasm in studying Latin American. I have improved my Spanish skills a lot in her courses and developed background knowledge of some of the general historical influences in the development of Latin American nations.

“In terms of getting the Fulbright, I can’t fail to mention Dean [Julia] Goldberg, who is absolutely the most enthusiastic person in terms of encouraging students to apply for grants and fellowships. She helped me out a lot with writing and revising my personal statement for the Fulbright.”

A former Big Brother, and community service assistant coordinator, Verbyla tutors English as a second language students through ProJeCt of Easton and Ingles Numero Uno with the Landis Center. Verbyla also volunteers with Kids at Third Street Alliance.

He participated in Played Out, a student theater group, and was a resident advisor. Verbyla is a member of Sigma Delta Pi, the Spanish honor society; Students for Social Justice; and the Percussion Ensemble. In addition, he serves as a drum tutor for World Music Traditions taught by Larry Stockton, professor and head of music.

Verbyla is one of 11 Lafayette students to have received Fulbright grants in the past seven years. The other recipients are Emily Groves ’05 (A.B. English), Teva Miller ’04 (A.B. English/German), Hart Feuer ’05 (A.B. economics and business/German), Shara Gregory ’04 (A.B. international affairs/German), Michael Lestingi ’04 (B.S mechanical engineering; A.B. international studies/Russian & East European Studies), Jessica Coakley ’03 (A.B. international affairs/economics & business), Tarik Ghanim ’03 (B.S. electrical and computer engineering; A.B. international studies), Sarah Glacel ’01 (A.B. Russian & East European Studies/international affairs), Sarah Eremus ’00 (A.B. Spanish/Japanese studies), and Gregory Domber ’97 (A.B. history/philosophy).

Spearheaded by Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright, the Fulbright Program was established by Congress in 1946 to demonstrate U.S. commitment to democratic values worldwide. The program aims to increase mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchange, strengthen U.S. ties with other nations, and promote international cooperation.

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