Students and faculty from Notre Dame work to alleviate suffering in Haiti


In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the country of Haiti, killing up to 315,000 people and displacing 1.5 million.  Now, nearly 5 years later, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is still working to rebuild cities, communities, and homes.

A Notre Dame research team, Engineering2Empower (E2E), has been working to create a housing model that will provide a more stable, secure home for people in Haiti currently living in makeshift huts or in displacement camps.  The focus of the project is dignified housing.

“A dignified house is something that won’t fall down, that will be strong, in addition it’s how can we give it that Haitian vibe, throw on a porch, throw on some paint … things like that that people can be proud of,” Tim Woodcock, a member of the E2E team and a senior civil engineering student, told the Rover.

E2E has the holistic goal of addressing the cultural aspects of housing in addition to the safety aspects.  Dr. Tracy Kijewski-Correa, Dr. Alexandros Tafanidis, and graduate student Dustin Mix started the organization as part of Notre Dame’s research through the civil engineering department.  Since the earthquake in 2010, this team has been designing structures that will provide inhabitants with both more safety and a dignified home.

The team has expanded to include more engineering graduate students and many undergraduate students in various disciplines as well.

Erik Jensen, a first year structural engineering graduate student and a double Domer, told the Rover, “Of the 20 undergrads, most are civil engineers, but we also have political science majors, international development minors, architects … if you’re trying to attack this problem from a holistic standpoint, you can’t stop at engineering because you’re only scratching the surface.”

The team considered these cultural aspects—from painting the houses a certain way to adding the traditional front porch—so important that before starting the building, they conducted a survey of over 1,400 Haitians, asking questions about what people wanted in a home.  Incorporating survey answers, the team put together two types of houses that incorporated these ideas with a more stable structure.

They also designed these houses to provide shelter very quickly after construction begins, as opposed to the construction time it would take traditional block masonry to provide a roof over inhabitants’ heads.  The E2E team then constructed two prototypes of these buildings on Notre Dame’s campus, opening it up to the public for viewing.

Kevin Fink, a first year civil engineering graduate student and a double Domer, explained to the Rover that the next project for his work with E2E is creating an app that homeowners could use to take pictures of their houses and receive safety reports on the houses.  Fink noted that “looking for ways to have early [identification] of places at risk” is part of the next step for the team.

Fink also explained why Notre Dame is the optimal place for this project to take place: “It places such an emphasis on research and on validating ideas before implementing ideas, especially in parts of the world where the consequences … can be very great for the people you are trying to help.”

“As engineers of ND we are called to look at all sides of any problem or issue, not just the math or physics behind it … this fits into ND’s mission by really looking deeper than just ‘these people need houses’ … really trying to fit it within people’s lives in a dignified way,” Woodcock added.

Jensen also emphasized the global nature of Notre Dame’s greater mission, saying, “These types of problems that are so multidisciplinary can only be solved at a setting like a university, in particular, a setting like Notre Dame which has that mission to be a force for good in the world.”

The project itself has had a significant effect on these participants, even encouraging Fink and Jensen to continue their work with E2E in graduate school.

“It’s changed my worldview … on problems, no matter how big,” Fink told the Rover.  “Even though we are so different from other people in the world, we are so similar in so many ways.”

E2E has affected Jensen in a similar way: “It challenged the way I thought about engineering.  Originally, I used to think of engineering as math and science and technology, but now I think about it more as people and faces.”


To learn more, arrange a visit to the exposition site on Notre Dame’s campus, or participate in the project, please visit


Abigail Bartels is a junior political science major in Badin Hall.  She spent Thanksgiving at a convent.  Much to her fiancé’s relief, she came back.  Contact her at