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NMSU Engineering Without Boundaries group repairs dangerous bridge in Nicaragua

Students, faculty and alumni in New Mexico State University's student organization Engineering Without Boundaries, formerly Engineers Without Borders, spent part of their summer, July 31 to August 16, on a bridge rehabilitation project in Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan children stand on a bridge over a waterway.
Children from Nicaragua test out the new foot bridge built by Engineering Without Boundaries from NMSU. (Courtesy photo)

Kenny Stevens, EWB faculty adviser and NMSU associate professor of engineering technology, said the old bridge in Santa Teresa, Nicaragua had caused dozens of bad accidents from people falling through the bridge. After EWB was done, the bridge was safe for people to cross.

"They were happy to have a bridge they could cross without nervousness," Stevens said.

EWB worked with Bridges to Prosperity, a non-governmental organization, which provided the cable for the project. EWB also received a grant from the Rotary Club and did some student fundraising to support the project.

The bridge serves two main communities on the east side of the river, Chaguite Grande and Laguna. The old bridge made it difficult for the residents to get to the west side of the river where the high school and main road are located. Now, not only can the locals safely cross the bridge, but it also is easier for them to sell their goods, get supplies and go to school.

The project was the third bridge project EWB has done, but this project was different from the other projects. EWB had never worked on an existing bridge, and that was a challenge the group had to overcome.

"It's always easier to start something new than to go and fix something old," said Salvador Hernandez, president of EWB and NMSU senior.

Hernandez, who is studying civil engineering, said that the greatest challenge they dealt with was not actually the project itself, but it was arranging the logistics and keeping everyone fed and healthy on the trip.

"The construction is always easy, everything else is what takes time," Hernandez said.

EWB had to do more than just repair the bridge. The project required four trips to Nicaragua. One trip for the initial survey, one trip to work on getting supplies, one trip to finalize logistics and the final trip to fix the bridge. Students in EWB had meetings twice a week where they planned the trip and discussed how they would fix the bridge.

"It was a massive 100 hour brainstorming session," Stevens said.

Students got experience in analysis, design, logistics, cost estimation, scheduling and the experience from building the bridge.

Hernandez said the EWB projects have improved his management skills, leadership skills and people skills, which will benefit his future. He also said that the EWB projects are a good chance to apply what he learns in class to the real world.

Hernandez said the greatest part of the project was making friends with the people in the area, as well as experiencing the culture and food of the area. He also said he has made lifelong friends at NMSU EWB.

"It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun," Hernandez said. "The fun always outweighs the work."

There were 24 people in the group including NMSU students, faculty, alumni and a student from the University of West Virginia. Engineering students were not the only students on the project. Students with majors in business, kinesiology, speech, health and English also were in the group.

EWB does not only do international projects - they also do local projects. They are currently helping at Camp Hope, a homeless community in Las Cruces. The group is working on a site plan for Las Cruces to make the camp legal, and once that is done they will help build some of the projects in the plan.

As for future international projects, Stevens said, "there are always more bridges to build." He said another possibility might be working on potable water. The state government in Queretaro, Mexico has contacted Stevens for a potential water project.

Hernandez encourages everyone to join Engineering Without Boundaries; all majors are welcome. For more information, contact ewb@nmsu.edu.