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NMSU EWB continues summer tradition of service

Date: 08/01/2014

Kenny Stevens, New Mexico State University associate professor of engineering technology, serves as adviser to New Mexico State University?s Engineering Without Boundaries group, formerly known as Engineers Without Borders.

Six people work on a bridge.
New Mexico State University Engineering Without Boundaries volunteers spent two weeks in Nicaragua last summer to repair a dangerous bridge there. This summer, they are building a school in Queretaro, Mexico. (Courtesy photo)

The group?s mission is to bring students, faculty and community members together to improve the daily lives of developing communities through sustainable infrastructure.

This summer, a group of 14 EWB students, two alumni, two faculty members and one staff member departed July 30 for their summer 2014 project in Queretaro, Mexico, where they will rehabilitate a school. The existing structure is a tarpaper and pallet shack with a dirt floor. It served as an overflow building for a small, well-built school there that wasn?t big enough to hold all of the students, but also serves as a community medical clinic for the doctor who visits each week.

?We sent a team of two students down over spring break and surveyed the spot and said they thought it would work,? Stevens said. ?The students spent the rest of the semester designing a two-room schoolhouse ? one big room, and a small room on the side that might act as the doctor?s area. We?ll put in plumbing, so it will have water, too.?

The students designed the building from scratch and put in green features such as clerestory windows, which face south and are placed high on the walls to allow in light.

?The school is up at 9,000 feet, so it?s cold, even though it?s down at about 20 degrees latitude,?
he said. ?It?s pretty chilly ? it gets down into the low 30s in the winter. The advance team texted back and said to tell everybody to bring jackets because it?s getting down into the 40s at night. So, we?re doing clerestory windows to kind of heat things up; we will orient the building so they can make use of the south-facing wall and get some thermal mass heating in the winter.?

The building will be constructed from locally sourced supplies and made mostly of cinderblocks. The team hired a local mason to help with the project.

?The students are great, but they?re what you call ?unskilled laborers,? so we hire somebody local to help with the ins and outs,? Stevens said. ?We also have sweat equity opportunities, so the community also puts in five or six people per day to join with the students on the project. It gets to be a pretty tight group.?

Catching the volunteering ?bug?

?I was a Peace Corps volunteer for several years, so I suppose that gave me the (volunteering) bug,? Stevens said. ?Then, in the mid-2000s, there were a couple of students who had heard about the whole Engineering Without Boundaries movement, and had gone to a couple conferences and came back excited, so they decided over lunch one day to do something here. The one young woman who got it started was just tireless. I got hung up in her enthusiasm.?
The thing that makes the EWB concept work, according to Stevens, is that there is a product at the end that does good for the local community. The students can step back, look at it and be proud that they have done something that can really help someone.

?It?s a pretty big natural high. There?s no downside to it. Ever since the first project in 2009 in Mexico, the students graduate and they don?t want to stop, so they call and say ?can I go this year? I can get two weeks off or a week off,?? Stevens said. ?They just don?t want to stop.?

Prior to each EWB trip, the students meet every week for a couple hours, then as the trip looms closer, they will sometimes meet twice a week to plan, work through the logistics, design and prepare for any foreseeable contingencies. Once on the ground, the EWB group typically spends two to two-and-a-half weeks working 12-hour days to complete the project.

While on the ground, the group stays in the local village. This time, they will stay in the structure they are replacing, the old school building, and in tents nearby. They hire local families cook for them, and typically one or two families feed them for the duration of the trip, but there were so many families interested for this trip that several different families plan to host them for meals.

?What grabs me about the whole thing is that we?re all in the education business. Seeing a student experience something new that they?re never seen before, and seeing it grab hold of them and they see the benefits of giving back ? they get something out of it, they get to travel and it?s something new ? but in most cases, it sticks with them. It tends to affect how they are after they graduate. The alumni keep on going. You see them getting involved with volunteer activities, community outreach activities and with community development activities after they graduate. I think that helps them,? Stevens added.

Student transportation costs for this trip totalled about $9,000, including room and board, while materials for the school were also about $9,000. EWB plans for contingencies and likes to donate items to the community, such as soccer balls and school supplies, bringing the total cost of the trip to about $20,000.

Aggies Go Global has assisted with student travel costs for the last several years and Rotary Club of Alamogordo also regularly supports EWB projects. If you would like to be counted among EWB?s many supporters, give via the ?Donate? button at engineeringwithoutboundaries.org, or call the NMSU Foundation and tell them your donation is to support Engineering Without Boundaries.

Written by Emily C. Kelley



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