Funes believes engineers can make a difference and create change. Soon to become a first-generation college graduate, Funes is majoring in civil and environmental engineering.
As a young girl, Kayla Funes understood the value of hard work and appreciated what she had. Funes and her three siblings grew up in Miami, Florida. Her mother’s family is from Cuba; her father’s, from Honduras.
“I remember stories my dad told me when I was a little girl about how hard it was to have water in his household. He had to walk three miles to a well after school to bring back a bucket of water for his family. They used the water to wash clothes, make dinner and clean. I can’t imagine living that way. We don’t appreciate the value of water the way he did.”
Her father’s stories sparked in Funes a passion for renewable energy and clean water initiatives.
Funes believes engineers can make a difference and create change. Soon to become a first-generation college graduate, Funes is majoring in civil and environmental engineering. She came to The Citadel because the engineering faculty made her feel at home.
Capt. Jeff Plumblee, Ph.D., a professor of engineering and Funes’ mentor, shares her passion for renewable energy and humanitarian engineering. In 2018 he started The Citadel’s Humanitarian Development Club, of which Funes served as president. That November, the club took her to Haiti.
“The people of Haiti have been through so much with earthquakes, hurricanes, political conflict and poor living conditions,” said Funes. “They also had a cholera outbreak a while back. They have clear water, but clear doesn’t mean safe. Educating people on what safe water is, what sanitation requires and how to treat your own water is important to prevent outbreaks from happening.”
While touring a local school, Funes noticed how dirty the water filters were. “Those kids were drinking that water, washing their hands with that water and then eating lunch. I knew that was a little something I could bring back to create change.”
Back at The Citadel, Funes and the Humanitarian Development Club began designing and building water filters to give back to Haitians. Their lab—a shipping container on the Ashley River—has only the most basic power tools and equipment, replicating what you would find in resource-constrained environments and developing countries. Here they prototype water filters, building, testing, and simplifying them to make it easy for Haitians to construct filters of their own.
“Humanitarian development is not about going to a developing country and telling them how to do things, or what they need,” said Funes. “It’s about asking what I can do for you. It’s about working for the people, and serving them.”
With Plumblee’s help, Funes secured an internship with Water Mission, a nonprofit engineering ministry based in North Charleston that provides sustainable safe water solutions to people in developing countries and disaster-torn regions. Funes plans to work as a water resources engineer after graduation.
“Having access to clean water, electricity and air conditioning is something to be valued. I want to make the world see that and value that as well.”