Thursday, July 27, 2017

Midshipman Spends Summer Serving Desert Eco-Village

Every summer, the U.S. Naval Academy selects up to four first-class midshipmen for the Service International Summer Leadership (SISL) Scholarship, which allows midshipmen to design, plan, and execute an international and impactful service project abroad.

This summer, Midshipmen 1st Class Michelle Tran was selected for the SISL Scholarship and spent five weeks in Israel.


Tran currently studies ocean engineering, and after beginning her studies in environmental engineering and developing her interest in environmental governance, she sought opportunities to put theory to practice.

She found such an opportunity in the middle of the desert.

Israel, unlike the U.S. and most Middle Eastern countries, is one of the most water-efficient nations in the world. The country owes its successes to two variables: the creation of a central, apolitical body that oversees the nation’s water supply and national investment in water-efficient technology such as seawater desalination, drip irrigation, and wastewater treatment.

Tran sought to experience this unique environment herself and set off for Tzukim, a remote town in the Negev desert. For five weeks she and other international volunteers helped maintain an ecologically sustainable lodge and designed and built mud structures out of materials local to southern Israel.


Throughout this experience, Tran identified inefficiencies in the lodge’s greywater treatment system and began drafting pipeline blueprints for construction in the fall and winter.

At the same time, she noticed that this eco-lodge possessed models for success, models that could be applied to developing communities around the world. During her free time in Tzukim, she interviewed academics at a local environmental institute to craft a study on the development, or lack thereof, of small businesses supporting eco-innovation, much like the lodge for which she worked.


She also participated in a learning seminar for young Gazans, Jordanians, and Israelis concerning the food, energy, and water crisis in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. From this experience, Tran employed system-based mapping software to more easily illustrate quantitative longevity models for commodities and industry such as water or energy or coastal fishing.

She hopes to use this software to improve project design for the Engineers Without Borders Club at USNA. At the end of her five weeks, Tran will continue her research in environmental sciences, specifically coastal flooding, at the Annapolis Office of Emergency Management.

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