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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI student project asks campus to ditch bottled water

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

Effort part of Grand Challenge course on global public health

KINGSTON, R.I. – November 29, 2011 – Individuals who drink bottled water products might want to hear what University of Rhode Island freshman Bill Law and his classmates have to say.

That’s because the students have learned that the bottled water process may sometimes allow companies to inappropriately acquire and market this vital resource worldwide. Their product is then packaged, transported and sold at a profit.

Law, a resident of Charlestown, and his classmates are enrolled in one of URI’s Grand Challenge classes, entitled “Be the Solution for Global Public Health Problems.”

Instituted last year, the 30 interdisciplinary Grand Challenge courses have small enrollments and are taught by full-time faculty members. They focus on major global challenges, such as poverty, diversity, hunger and climate change, and they have intriguing titles like “Media and Race Relations,” “The Weight is Over,” “The Future of Families,” “Heavy Metal,” and “Earth Gone Mad?”

One group in this fall’s global public health honors course is focusing on water-borne diseases and their relationship to water supply depletion. To call attention to the problem in small ways, the students will hold a water bottle sale to encourage URI community members to fill the bottles with tap water and reuse them.

“The grand challenge classes are designed specifically to engage first-year students in learning about big issues in the world and then proposing viable and achievable solutions,” said Don DeHayes, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at URI.

“Our assessment of student engagement and learning from these courses has indeed shown that addressing these important and relevant topics seems to ignite student enthusiasm for both learning and action. The passion, efforts, and outreach demonstrated by Bill (Law) and his classmates are testimony to the important contributions URI students make on a regular basis to improving society as well as to their own development. We are very proud of our students and the faculty who worked so hard to engage with them in these special courses.”

“We are looking at water-borne illnesses and wondering how we could help,” Law said. “Through our reusable water bottle drive, we are trying to show how much water we use and how our waste contributes to water depletion.”

Each bottle is blue and emblazoned with the Rhody Ram logo, and costs $10. They will be sold at the URI Holiday Mini Mall in the Memorial Union, 50 Lower College Road, Dec. 7 and 8, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Money raised will be donated to water.org, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization committed to providing safe drinking water and sanitation to people in developing countries. View this video made by the students that calls attention to global freshwater shortage issues.

Jef Bratberg, clinical associate professor of pharmacy and one of four instructors for the class, said Law’s team came up with the idea of selling aluminum, reusable water bottles on its own.

“This is a simple step that people can take to preserve water resources around the world,” Bratberg said. “I admire Bill for coming up with this fundraiser and awareness campaign for water.org.”

Bratberg said the class watched a film called Water Wars, which details the privatization of water resources worldwide, while pointing out that future wars will likely be fought over access to and control of unpolluted, fresh water, unless societies come together to face this global crisis.

Water problems are not the only focus of the class. Other groups are examining nutrition, non-communicable diseases, vector-borne diseases, respiratory diseases and maternal and child health. Each group is required to complete a multimedia presentation that includes Internet resources, video, slides, photographs, and audio.

“We talked in this class about how to make simple changes. Of course one way to do it is to stop buying water in disposable containers,” Bratberg said. “Another way would be to eat less meat because it takes 2,500 gallons of fresh water to produce 1 pound of beef.”

He said each of the groups had to choose a non-governmental organization working to solve global problems and then produce a video that will convince the faculty members to give to that organization.

“This is an honors class, and we expect robust discussion among the students and faculty,” Bratberg said. “With 16 students and four faculty members, each class is almost like a panel discussion. We are trying to show the inter-relationship of public health issues. Let’s face it, water-born diseases and severe water shortages are linked to malnutrition.”

The other faculty members are Mary E. Cloud, clinical assistant professor of nursing, Stephen Kogut, associate professor of pharmacy practice, and Roger Lebrun, Carnegie Professor of Life Sciences in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences.

Pictured above
SIMPLE SOLUTION: Members of a freshman URI honors Grand Challenges class called “Be the Solution for Global Public Health Problems,” gather to show off their new water bottles, which will be sold to benefit water.org, an organization devoted to developing safe drinking water and sanitation in developing countries. From left are Alex Azevedo, a biological science major from Tiverton, Andrea Hernandez, a nursing student from Providence, Bill Law, a biological sciences major from Charlestown, Jef Bratberg, clinical associate professor of pharmacy and one of four instructors for the class, and Melanie Mejia, a biological sciences major from Pawtucket. The URI students are also using the sale to educate campus community members about the waste associated with commercially bottled water sold in disposable containers. URI Photo by Michael Salerno Photography.