April 25, 2013 | Myrna Anderson

Dan Nederhoed, David Headley, Walta Asfaw, Nick Liza

Last weekend, four Calvin engineering students—Nick Liza, Walta Asfaw, David Headley and Dan Nederhoed—packed themselves and their senior design project, a disaster shelter, into a Dodge Caravan and drove 13 hours to Siloam Springs, Arkansas, subsisting on ham sandwiches and fast food. It rained most of the way. The four, all civil and environmental concentrators, headed for the 2013 World Vision Disaster Shelter Design Competition, held at and sponsored by John Brown University, Thursday through Saturday, April 18–20. Their shelter, a 99-percent PVC structure anchored by stakes and sandbags, endured the Friday, 9 a.m. shake (earthquake) test, the Saturday, 8 a.m. 50-mph-wind test and various other assessments by the judges. When the team received their score, they drove the 13 hours back to Grand Rapids. Liza was appointed to break the news to engineering professor David Wunder, who had encouraged them to enter the competition.

“Monday morning, I went in and said, ‘We all got in a fight with each other, and it was a long trip home. Would you settle this with the team?’” Liza recounted. “And he said, ‘Okay,’ and then we all showed him the plaque.”

“He held that plaque over his head and said, ‘Yeah!’” Nederhoed said.

“He was showing the plaque to all the other professors,” Liza said.

Liza, Asfaw, Headley and Nederhoed, dubbed Team Calvin for the World Vision competition, had won first place and a $2000 prize.

Wunder is proud of the team and gratified by their success: "Prioritizing simplicity and elegance in their design, the team used relevant  and sophisticated engineering analyses to address real needs of a hurting world ... ," he said. "That Calvin was well represented by their exemplary effort at the competition is fantastic and worth celebrating, but the way the team grew together in serving each other in their Kingdom work is especially heartening."

Shelter from the storm

The World Vision/John Brown competition is designed to find sustainable short-term living solutions for people who have experienced a hurricane, tsunami, earthquake or other disaster. Team Calvin’s model was created for Indonesia, which endured earthquakes and tsunami in both 2004 and this year, destroying villages and leaving people homeless. “It gives them a little bit of a place so they can begin rebuilding their lives,” Nederhoed said of the team’s shelter.

The Calvin team enjoyed the competition, which also featured structures from the University of Louisiana at Monroe (which finished second), LeTourneau University, Judson University, John Brown (which finished third), and other institutions.

“Everybody had something unique about their shelter,” said Asfaw.

The students enjoyed some of the nuances of the disaster shelter competition. Each shelter was tested by having a “simulated victim” stay overnight in it. “A student volunteer,” Headley clarified. The structures were judged on for cultural appropriateness, which is why the Calvin shelter was sandbagged using “local” soil (soil from the testing site.)

The students also enjoyed watching a couple of the other teams voluntarily rev up the wind on their shelters once official testing was over. “It was nice to see their structure completely destroyed at 90 miles per hour,” said Asfaw.

“It completely blew away,” Liza said.

“It’s not funny if you see somebody living in it,” Asfaw added.

Liza, the son of missionaries who now lives in Brazil, agreed: “I’ve been through Hurricane Wilma in 2005 that hit the east coast of Miami, and I’ve lived in Ecuador, and I haven’t lived through an earthquake, but I’ve experienced the shudders.”

The team agreed it would have been fun to crank up the wind on their shelter. “If we didn’t have to bring it back and show it off,” Nederhoed said. One of the things that Team Calvin is celebrating is the fact that their senior design project is finished.

One of 17

Asfaw comes from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Nederhoed grew up on the mission field in Peru and currently lives in Grand Rapids. Headley hails from Chesterland, Ohio. The four decided to collaborate on their senior design project mainly because they had partnered on several projects as juniors. The idea to make their project a disaster shelter was Headley’s: “He said, ‘I’m going to make a disaster shelter, and I’m going to make it out of PVC,” Nederhoed said.

The four engineers, under their more official title of Team DRS (Disaster Relief Shelter), will be presenting their project at the annual Senior Projects Night Open House, held 4 p.m.–5:45 p.m., Saturday, May 4, in the Vermeer Engineering Projects Center and Prince Engineering Design Center. There will be 17 projects in all this year, including a Smart dashboard, a submersible robot and a wastewater treatment system for a village in Ecuador.  (See sidebar.)

Until then, the team is savoring its win. “When they called our names, (we) said, “Oh yeah!” Nederhood recalled. “You’ve got to handle your emotions somewhat. You can’t go running and yipping.”

Watch video of Calvin's winning team of engineers.
Read about the prize-winning BUV student engineers designed in 2007.


Recent stories