People of SU / Research

A Sustainable Partnership

Written by Brett Prim

November 22, 2022

Students with a coffee farmer in Colombia.
Seattle University students and host, PUJ Professor Luis Jaramillo Gomez, tour a coffee farm and visit with a farmer in Colombia. Pictured Joe Pacini, Ian Woodley, Professor Luis Jaramillo Gomez, Esp., Zainab Ahmad and Patricia Jones.

Seattle University students join Civil Engineering faculty in Colombia in a visiting scholar exchange with Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. 

Earlier this fall, a group of four students and two faculty traveled to Colombia on a scholar exchange trip with Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (PUJ). The trip was the next step in an ongoing partnership between Seattle University and our sister university, built on the results of the work done when Seattle University hosted visiting scholars in June. The collaboration and exchange trips were organized and led by Civil Engineering Professor Katie Kuder, PhD, and Associate Professor and Department Chair Mike Marsolek, PhD.

“Transfer experiences are great examples of putting the mission into action because they educate the whole person,” says Marsolek, who is one of the leaders in developing the partnership. “Here, students learned about the civil engineering practice in a new culture, while simultaneously improving environmental justice by helping to find new low-cost solutions for smallholder farmers to clean coffee wastewater.”

The students, whose majors include civil engineering, environmental science and biochemistry, visited Colombia for seven days to research sustainable methods to clean coffee wastewater. The experience included two days on the PUJ campus and laboratories doing lab work, three days touring coffee farms and a day in Bogota. The team traveled to coffee farms in La Vega, San Francisco and Mesitas del Colegio to see different coffee bean harvesting and water processing techniques and simulated coffee fermentation and washing processes to test the performance of various filters when cleaning the wastewater.

Wastewater from coffee farms significantly impacts the environment and local economy, including contributing to eutrophication of local rivers. It also deteriorates water quality for downstream coffee farms, harming product quality and incomes.

“We were excited to partner with PUJ in this pilot program to increase global engagement opportunities for CSE students,” said Kuder, who was also one of the faculty organizers. “Our students were able to work collaboratively with their PUJ colleagues for more than six months to research coffee wastewater treatment processes and then visit the coffee farms in Colombia. CSE is excited to be able to offer enriching exchange programs like these for our students.”

This is the first student trip to Colombia since SU began collaborating with the university in Spring 2021. The university is continuing to explore ways to partner with PUJ to provide learning and research opportunities for students, including the potential for a formal exchange program for engineering students and research collaborations between faculty. 

“This is the kind of program that prepares our graduates to be global citizens who are ready to solve grand challenges with consideration to ethics, social justice and humanity,” says Amit Shukla, PhD, dean of the College of Science and Engineering. “The fact this collaboration with PUJ, which is part of the International Association of Jesuit Engineering Schools, enables global partnerships and enhances the SU’s presence in the South American Continent is a great benefit as well. We look forward to building upon this relationship.”