I’ve tried a lot of student groups and activities while at USC, and gotten more deeply involved in a few of them throughout the last 3 and half-ish years. While they have all been a lot of fun and have taught me a whole heck of a lot about leadership, time management, and all those important skills, the student organization that stands out above the rest is Engineers Without Borders.
I joined EWB-USC my sophomore year. I had just switched from biomedical to civil engineering, and I was looking to increase my understanding of civil design as well as work in developing countries. I jumped in both feet first — and loved it! Within the first few months I really felt like I was an integral member of the design team. I spent a couple of weekends working with our project managers and our professional mentor at her office in Pasadena, and when we finally solidified the design, I was put in charge of all the drafting.
In January of my junior year, I traveled with the team to Honduras for the first time. What a great trip. We spent a lot of time surveying the land, visiting the hardware store to get price estimates on the materials we would need, and checking out similar rainwater catchment systems in the area. My favorite part, though, was getting to meet all the people in the community and really see how they live. When designing for the developing world (and anywhere, really) it is oh so important to make sure that the community is happy with your design. Otherwise, they might reject the project and it will likely fall into disrepair and end up as a pile of wasted time and effort. Every time we travel, we spend a lot of time meeting with the community in order to present our design and answer whatever questions they have.
Three months later I was headed back to Honduras for our first implementation trip. Now that we finally had gathered all of the needed information and come up with a suitable design, it was time to begin the construction process. In less than a week, we poured a 20’x20′ reinforced concrete foundation. Now… that might not sounds like a lot, but considering it all had to be mixed by hand, I can assure you it was an accomplishment. Luckily, the community supplied most of the labor, and while we were glad to try our hardest, if it had been up to us, we would probably STILL be there mixing concrete. I had such a fun time hanging out with the local workers, though! I’m still working on my Spanish, but I did my best and they were all really understanding.
At the end of last year, I decided to run for project manager, and I got elected! (Ok, fine, my co-project manager and I were running unopposed.) I spent part of my summer trying to get a handle on everything that this job entails, but I still am doing a LOT of learning on the job. The project manager is responsible for everything related to design as well as all the administrative aspects of travel and meetings. Last Sunday we had a huge submittal due to nationals, with information on technical aspects of our design, budget info, health and safety protocol and more. It was a lot of work, so I’m definitely glad that we got it in.
I’m off to Portland tomorrow for the EWB West-Coast Workshop. I’m so excited to spend a few days in the Pacific Northwest learning all about designing for the developing world and meeting other EWB-ers from around the region.