Jaime Styer

Jaime Styer, MS 2023 

Humanitarian Engineering and Science: Environmental Engineering

Bio: Jaime is researching how to create a community-based, integrated solution to mitigate the environmental impacts of C&DW as well as empower women and low-income communities in Colombia by gaining skills in extracting value from what is traditionally seen as waste. During her time in the HES program, Jaime served as a Humanitarian Engineering and Science Ambassador, Shultz Family Leadership in Humanitarian Engineering Graduate Fellow, Engineering Design and Society course teaching assistant, Civil and Environmental Engineering research assistant, and president of the Humanitarian Engineering and Science Graduate Student Committee. Her primary social values of fighting for social justice with a focus on gender equality and pursuing environmental sustainability translate both in her personal life as well as her technical studies. Her research has taught her valuable lessons about the importance of working with communities to ensure engineering projects are sustainable, just, and responsible, and she hopes to continue working with communities to jointly solve engineering challenges in the future.  

Project Summary: The main objective of this research was to contribute to empowering low-income communities, especially women, in Colombia by extracting value from C&DW through recycling processes. This research was developed in partnership with a local Colombian university, Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios or Uniminuto. The groups specifically working on this project from Uniminuto were the Parque Científico de Innovación Social (Social Innovation Science Park or PCIS), a research group led by Civil Engineering and Occupational Health and Safety Professors with social justice aims entitled Ingeniero a tu Barrio, the international studies group in Uniminuto-Girardot, as well as communication specialists including Professor Martha Liliana Herrera Gutiérrez, who was responsible for translation, facilitation, and communication throughout the project. Together they worked directly with a low-income community in Colombia, named Barzalosa, to study how recycling concrete from C&DW could empower them. 

During the summer of 2022, Jaime spent six weeks in Colombia completing fieldwork for this research. The goals of this fieldwork were to gain a better understanding of the Barzalosa community, their goals for this research, their perspectives related to C&DW, and how empowerment is contextually situated in their community. Throughout the six weeks of fieldwork, they interviewed 17 women and 12 men from differing backgrounds, including low-income community members, community leaders, engineers, academics, students, waste management experts, and government officials. During each interview, translation services were provided by professors from Uniminuto. 

After completing her first phase of fieldwork, Jaime returned to the US, where she developed a participatory, community-based workshop based on the data she collected during her fieldwork, feedback from community members and leaders, as well as advice from HES students and faculty, and Colombian professionals. She returned to Barzalosa in March 2023 to conduct the workshop with the help of local subject matter experts and facilitators. Ultimately, through validation with the workshop participants and facilitators, the workshop ended up containing five key sections: Applications and Entrepreneurism; C&DW Composition and Values, Environmental Aspects, and Necessary Permits; C&D Recycling Processes and Technologies; Occupational Health, and Safety; and the Theory of Change and Pathways Forward. To centralize local knowledge and build local capacity, they invited Colombian subject matter experts to lead each of the key sections. Throughout the workshop, community members, subject matter experts, and facilitators collaborated to brainstorm how best to recycle C&DW in the context of the Barzalosa community. The participants participated in multiple activities during the workshop, including, local icebreaker activities; brainstorming what else they could make with recycled concrete, what they wanted their community to look like in five years, and how recycled concrete could be used in making that future possible; critiquing concrete recycling technologies for the context of their community; and creating, sealing, and decorating their own flowerpots made from recycled concrete.

Jaime is working on expanding her work into the artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sector through collaborations with a mining engineering graduate student associated with a research group (IGNEA) adjacent to the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Zacarías Salgado. She hopes to continue extending her research by collaborating with engineering and science academics and practitioners, as well as community engagement organizations such as Diversa, in Colombia and the US to bring C&DW projects to other communities that express the desire to work in this area. 

This project would not have been possible without the Barzalosa community members that shared their time, knowledge, experiences, and homes for the purposes of this project. Also, the support of the Colorado School of Mines Humanitarian Engineering and Science Program, Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios (Uniminuto), the “Responsible Mining, Resilient Communities” project/the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Medellín), my thesis advisor Professor Juan Lucena (Mines), and Professor Martha Liliana Herrera Gutiérrez (Uniminuto) was essential to complete this project.