Team USA wins 1st Water Innovation Challenge Title

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Falls Church, Va. — A U.S. team of young plumbing and engineering professionals narrowly edged out representatives from Australia to win the inaugural Water Innovation Challenge in Singapore last week. Coming together to develop a series of real and innovative solutions for emerging water and sanitation problems in two developing countries – Nepal and Bangladesh – the U.S. team members specifically developed a system to pump water from a rainwater harvesting tank to a sanitation station to fill a vessel that was used to clear the solids from an Asian toilet pan.

Check out highlights from the event here

With generous financial support from the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors’ National Association (PHCC) Educational Foundation, among other industry groups, Team USA spent many hours on its solution before and during the three-day competition, covering construction, planning, logistics, budgets, project management and skills/knowledge transfer, which will be carried forward by the project partner Healthabitat as it implements the system in villages that need facilities.

“It was fun watching the kids become a team,” says team mentor William N. Erickson of PHCC member C.J. Erickson Plumbing Co. in Alsip, Ill. “It was clear that the U.S. team was over-the-top on their skills.”

These young, up-and-coming professionals, all under the age of 26, were proud to bring a solution to areas of the world where people are getting sick every day from inadequate sanitation facilities. The “real need” now, Erickson says, “is to train the local people on how to do this work.” Doing the work was not the challenge, he says of the experience. “Teaching people, who did not speak English and did not read or write any language, how to do the work was the challenge.”

The United States was represented by Nicholas Michalenko, a veteran of WorldSkills Competition 2013 in Germany; Timothy Murphy, an apprentice plumber with Boulanger’s Plumbing & Heating; Sarah Parker, an advertising and design student at Appalachian State University and also a veteran of WorldSkills Competition 2013; and Judith Torres, a graduate mechanical engineer who currently works with Progressive AE. “This was an experience these kids will never forget,” says Cindy Sheridan, chief operating officer of PHCC’s Educational Foundation. “Better than bringing home a win, they brought home the satisfaction that their skills can really make a difference anywhere in the world.”

Erickson, the team leader, is grateful for financial support from sponsors like PHCC. “It allowed us to focus on the tasks at hand … not worry about how to get [to Singapore] and back or who would pay for the next cup of coffee or next meal,” he says. “Eliminating those issues allowed the kids to create and innovate. That was fun to watch.”

PHCC Executive Vice President Gerry Kennedy applauds the mentoring exhibited throughout the experience by Erickson, who even bought fans for Team USA and Team Australia when he witnessed both teams struggling with the oppressive heat and annoying gnats. “Bill [Erickson] is a real leader in the industry,” says Kennedy. “It’s no surprise that he spent countless hours nurturing and challenging these team members. As a result, they can look back with pride on their contributions to work as a team to develop innovative solutions.”

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