Student Rocio Sotomayor performing water analysis tests.

Hello! I am Rocío Sotomayor, a 5th year civil engineering student at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus (UPRM) and part of the second cohort of RISE-UP. Last summer I had the opportunity to participate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) with the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The Disaster Relief and Resilience (DRR) program was created to develop infrastructure projects that would provide resilience to communities in Puerto Rico.

Together with 5 other students, three from UIUC and two others from UPRM, we worked on a resilience project in a school in Cataño. The project consisted of developing a rainwater collection system for different uses. At the moment, we developed it as part of the irrigation system, but for future plans, we hope that the collected water can also be used for drinking or sanitary purposes. Understanding that water is essential for a full and healthy life, being able to develop these types of systems that withstand these extreme atmospheric events is essential for communities in Puerto Rico to be more resilient. 

For me, this program was very important because I was able to expose and practice my (few) technical knowledge in civil engineering and resilience in a focused and materialized project. I was able to witness the power of infrastructure as a method of social change when we generate it from a multidisciplinary perspective and incorporate all stakeholders into the project. During the summer, I was able to work in the lab doing water analysis, do the system design, and visit the community. Having these different facets throughout the project I think was essential to understand how the project should be from a technical perspective, but also from what was needed and could be implemented in the community.