In the fall of 2017, a group of students from The University of Tulsa’s Engineers Without Borders-USA chapter traveled to the country of Bolivia to conduct site assessments for an upcoming service project. Working with Engineers in Action, a nongovernmental organization formed in Tulsa, five undergraduate students, TU EWB-USA chapter co-adviser Laura Ford, a professional mentor, an Engineers in Action engineer, a translator and a cook embarked on a 10-day adventure that led them to the East Andes mountains of Bolivia, through large cities and small villages such as El Alto, La Paz and Machacamarca.
Engineers in Action hires Bolivian engineers to conduct site visits and identify towns where residents can benefit from service projects. The EWB-USA national office reviews the engineers’ proposals and awards travel permission to EWB-USA chapters. After receiving approval to travel, TU spent months planning and fundraising for the exploratory trip.
“Not very many students get the opportunity to do this kind of work and see a third-world country,” said Ford, an associate professor of chemical engineering. “They get experience in other parts of engineering that they don’t get with their classwork because a lot of EWB work is civil engineering.”
The purpose of the TU trip mirrors the EWB-USA mission of providing basic human needs such as water, power and sanitation. The group set a goal to collect data and determine an ideal sanitation project to design and build for residents in Machacamarca and Micacuni. Students performed percolation soil testing, took GPS coordinates for map elevations and conducted land surveying while receiving onsite, hands-on lessons in project management. After returning home, the team ran a post-assessment of the trip and drew out a timeline for implementation.
“We’re working on a design for the project, which is either going to be composting latrines or showers,” said chemical engineering junior Donny Gross.
As health and safety officer for the project, Gross looks forward to returning to Bolivia for implementation. “It’s been good to try and give back to communities that don’t necessarily have all of the privileges we have.”
Project leader and mechanical engineering senior Brad Kerst said the community assessment involved conducting surveys and engaging with local families to learn more about their daily lives. The Machacamarca and Micacuni communities prepared a feast for its visitors and opened their homes to TU.
“Until you actually get in the community working with these people, you can’t really have a good understanding of what they really need,” he said. “The people in Bolivia are fantastic and extremely welcoming.”
Bolivia was the first international trip for petroleum engineering junior Donovan Adesoro who assisted in percolation testing and land surveys to check for water table contamination and measure soil flow rates.
“I’m learning a whole new discipline that I can potentially use in my future,” he said. “Volunteering while using my engineering skills to help people is right up my alley.”
The group’s next Bolivia visit is projected for fall 2018 when students will begin the implementation process of their finalized design. Although the TU EWB-USA chapter’s projects are rooted in engineering and science, Ford said the organization is open to all TU students.
“Sometimes we do health surveys of a community where a nursing student would be helpful,” she said. “We also do fundraising for our trips, so students with fundraising or marketing experience would be useful.”
EWB-USA meetings are held each Friday in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences. Contact Dr. Ford for more information, firstname.lastname@example.org.