The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy Awards UM Undergraduate Students 1st Place for their Collaborative Research

Research suggest ways to improve Havana’s wastewater issues and earns top honors in national competition

Suggesting improvements to Cuba’s dilapidated wastewater infrastructure is at the core of University of Miami biology and engineering students Nayara Sabrina and Alexandra Westbrook’s award-winning research paper entitled, “Havana’s Wastewater Treatment Plants: Changes Over Time and Estimate of Replacement Cost.”

UM College of Arts and Sciences student Nayara Sabrina

The paper earned Sabrina and Westbrook first place prize in the undergraduate student category from the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) 2016 Jorge Perez-Lopez Graduate and Undergraduate Student Award Competition.

“I am super happy for this great opportunity. We did not expect to win the first place in the competition,” said Sabrina. “We wrote this paper because we had a lot of new information about Havana´s wastewater system, so we wanted to publish it to contribute to this area of research.”

Sabrina, an exchange student from Brazil and recent biology graduate in the College of Arts and Sciences, drafted the paper with coauthor and fellow UM engineering major Alexandra Westbrook. Both met during Dr. Helena Solo-Gabriele’s class, where the project began. Solo-Gabriele, UM professor of civil architectural and environmental engineering, was also their mentor during the competition, guiding them though the rigorous process to victory.

“It was fascinating to see the student team work together from different disciplines,” said Solo-Gabriele. “Each had different perspectives and came together to develop an innovative approach based upon Google Earth Imagery to evaluate the operation of wastewater treatment plants from the 2000 to the present.  The results are relevant in addressing potential contamination of the water supply.”

UM School of Engineering student Alexandra Westbrook

The paper, which also proposes cost-effective methods to eliminate the transmission of disease and negative ecological impacts from wastewater management plants in the city of Havana, earned Sabrina a complimentary one-year membership to ASCE and an invitation to attend and present the study at the annual ASCE conference. Sabrina also received a travel stipend of $800 plus a $400 cash reward.

“At first, we studied wastewater management because this was the focus of our class. However, later on, we decided to participate in the conference organized by the ASCE, and for this reason, we also proposed cost estimates to improve the existing wastewater infrastructure of Havana,” said Sabrina. “Finding information about Havana´s wastewater system was the hardest part of putting this paper together. Our study was limited mainly by the lack of available information regarding the wastewater infrastructure of Havana.”

The ASCE, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in 1990, studies Cuba as it transitions to a market economy while also promoting scholarship, research, and publications by its members.

July 13, 2016