News

Q & A with Board Member Laura MacDonald, PhD about being an Engineer.

Posted on: September 30, 2020

As a lead up to our October Hour of Happy: So you Want to Be An Engineer, we asked some of our leaders to provide a few reflections for students who are interested in this career path.

Today, we’re sharing reflections from Laura MacDonald, PhD who is an EIA Board Member and the Managing  Director of the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering , Global Engineering Residential Academic Program at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Engineering might be for you if…

Engineering might be for you if you enjoy applying math and science skills to a problem while also thinking critically about the context in which that problem exists – what non-technical factors are contributing to this problem? How can a team with diverse skills work together to address it?

What to do right now that can help you prepare?

It helps to be interested in the world around you. Ask questions about why something is the way it is, how something works or doesn’t work.

How did you choose the type of Engineering you specialized in?

 I chose environmental engineering because of my passion for the environment and how humans interact with it.

What is the best thing about being an Engineer?

The best thing about being an engineer is working with others to address the root causes of poverty.

How has your experience with EIA made you a better Engineer?

Serving on the board of EIA has given me the opportunity to support a great organization that’s founded on engineering principles while focused on contributing to global poverty reduction. This opportunity has given me the chance to have a greater impact than I could as just one engineer acting alone.

We’ll see you at 5:00 p.m. Central on October 6th. Live on Facebook!

Board Member A.J. Voth reflects on EIA and the 2020 Fast for Clean Water

Posted on: September 8, 2020

It’s usually a personal connection that brings people into the EIA family. An invitation, a conversation, or an appeal for help solving a problem…

That personal connection for A.J. was Rod Beadle, the former Executive Director of EIA.

Rod knew that A.J. was involved with another international engineering NGO and preparing to visit some projects in Central America when, “he asked me to take a look at EIA and give him an evaluation of how EIA could interface” with projects like the ones he was visiting.

And true to his word, he did.  At 2AM, “just prior to leaving on my trip!”

On A.J.’s arrival in Central America he discovered that each project he was visiting had experienced a significant degree of failure. Those failures were directly related to the team’s inability to communicate with, and provide consistent ongoing training for, each community. 

And that’s when he realized that the services that EIA provided would have been game-changers for both projects. 

Developing the capacity of indigenous engineers and professionals is a central part of the EIA model. Having staff members from the region who speak the languages and are part of the culture ensures that projects meet the most critical needs of a community and empower it to ensure its long-term viability.

“I believe that Engineers In Action has a unique development model among the NGO’s of the world.  The model is based on regional growth and maintaining ongoing communication between volunteer teams from the developed world and the local communities they serve.”

A. J. is trained as a Mechanical Engineer and has long been passionate about using his talents to help others. Says A.J. “I left the corporate world in 2005 determined to make a difference. That’s when my engineering education really began.”

The 10th Annual Fast for Clean Water is approaching, and A.J. has been an enthusiastic participant for 6 of those years. “While the fast is an EIA Fundraising Event, my primary reason for fasting is to introduce more people to Engineers In Action, who we are and what we do and why we are unique. I am committed to seeing the EIA model continue to grow regionally and also begin to spread around the world.”

A. J. is at home in  Saint Charles, IL  and in addition to his board duties, serves on the board’s Education, Fundraising, and Governance Committees.

Engineers AND Health Promoters in Action

Posted on: September 3, 2020

Aleine Heredia Pena, Health Promoter for FIEA Bolivia

Not all of the Engineers in Action team members are engineers. One of the most important non-engineering roles in EIA is that of Health Promoter, a professional on our team who provides information and training about health and sanitation issues to schools, families and communities.

Aleine Heredia Pena, the FIEA Health Educator in Bolivia brings more than 15 years of experience to her work. She finds great satisfaction in getting to know the variety of landscapes, cultures and traditions of her country and the many friendships she’s developed in her travels.

The Health Promoter combines their knowledge of the ways in which people can improve and manage their health with the skills of an educator, coach, trainer and mentor. And on top of all that, Aleine adds, “the most important thing is to be empathetic. Put yourself in the shoes of others to understand them better.”

As they encourage others to learn, Health Promoters often find themselves learning, too. For Aleine this has included learning indigenous languages and dialects and navigating the cultures and customs that are unique to each region and community. Promoters must be flexible, too and ready to respond to unexpected issues that arise during projects. “An interesting experience was working with leaders who were appointed by rural communities very distant from urban centers. In carrying out my monitoring work, I noticed that the participants were not completing reports, so to help them with this part of the project, I had to provide instruction to increase their reading and writing skills.”

In her time with FEIA, Aleine has supported UMCOR projects by providing training in WASH and water treatment issues in homes and schools and supporting project planning through information gathering and assessment with communities and community groups. Her favorite moments on the job have been sharing with EIA volunteers and students who come to Bolivia to carry out implementations of water and sanitation projects and, the personal satisfaction of observing the changes in attitudes and habits in the students, families and communities she has worked with.

Aliene lives in Oruro, the folkloric city of Bolivia where the typical dish is Charquecan, which is made of dehydrated llama meat!  To relax and energize for each new day Aliene likes “to listen to instrumental music especially on saxophone, watch the sun rise, and Zumba.”  Aliene and her Agronomist husband Remberto have two daughters,  Claudia, a Business Administrator and Mariela, who is studying Chemical Engineering. Their family also includes Shado, the dog and Tato, the soft and silent kitten. When asked what is required to be a great Health Promoter, Aliene offers this advice: “Guide and convince, never impose. Have leadership concepts. Provide all participants with the same opportunity to intervene, motivating everyone to do so.”

Want to Build A Bridge?

Posted on: August 14, 2020

With Back to School often comes the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For little ones who think their future might be Engineering, we’ve got a fun bridge building activity to try.

New Education Committee gets to work.

Posted on: August 12, 2020

Julie Allen, Executive Director

This is my favorite time of the year. Colorful school supplies in every shop and the reappearance of bright yellow busses in the morning and afternoon are signals that a brand new adventure is about to begin.

Although I won’t be returning to a traditional classroom this week, through Engineers in Action, I am still facilitating important educational opportunities, for there is teaching and learning in everything we do!

Hundreds of engineering students get premier hands-on experience through EIA Bridge Chapters and  WASH teams. Working professional engineers find different ways to apply their knowledge and use their skills in an entirely new working environment through corporate projects and partnerships. And did you know that EIA trains and mentors local masons and other tradespeople and, through their work in support of our projects, help them move into family-sustaining careers?

Over the summer a new Education Committee was established to expand our impact in these areas, and to utilize our unique competencies to inspire even more engineers to become Engineers in Action! In the weeks to come, we’ll be filling in the exciting details so I encourage you to follow along and be among the first to get involved.

See you soon,

Julie Allen, ExecutiveDirector (and Educator)

P.S. Get in the back-to-school spirit with us on Facebook and our other social media channels where we’re celebrating all things educational this month.

Learning and Serving in Carijana, Bolivia

Posted on: July 23, 2020

Nikita Patel, Pittsburgh Student Chapter of Engineers Without Borders

In May of 2019, the University of Pittsburgh Student Chapter of Engineers Without Borders had the opportunity to travel to our partner community in Carijana, Bolivia to perform an assessment trip, the first step in our 5-year partnership with Carijana to address their concerns with their current sanitation system. With the help of our partnering NGO, Engineers in Action (EIA), our team was able to successfully collect all of the necessary data to later propose a solution to the community that we believed best fits their needs.

On the trip, our team met with community leaders and members, tested all water sources to obtain baseline data, surveyed the pre-existing health practices and health beliefs of the community members, assessed the pre-existing sanitation system, created a precise map of the community, and began building a relationship with the community members and leaders. Since then, our team has used this data and continued gathering community input to identify pour-flush latrines as the best option for Carijana. We have moved forward with site selection and modeling of the pour-flush design. We hope to plan another visit to the community, when possible, to begin our implementation.

For me and the other student travel team members from our chapter, this trip was our first ever community visit. Because we were unsure of what to expect, we meticulously planned every morning and afternoon of every day of our trip, creating categorized binders of forms, instructions, and agendas for each travel team member. Though we knew not everything would go according to plan, we decided to plan for as much as we could, and in retrospect, I feel that this decision helped us immensely. Though it was important to keep in mind that our schedule would need to be flexible, delineating the necessary data and establishing approximate time frames for completion of various tasks allowed us to plan our time in the community well.

The experience and helpfulness of everyone at EIA was extremely valuable and helpful to us on the trip. Because for most of us, except our advisor, this was our first experience in-community, we relied heavily on the expertise of our advisor and the EIA project engineer and translator that accompanied us. Their technical advice and cultural understanding of the community was a resource we could count on in-community.

Overall, going on this trip surprised me in a lot of ways. The hospitality and willingness of community members to welcome us into their lives and homes, even as we asked sometimes personal questions about health and sanitation practices, astounded me. The incredible location of the community, nestled in the Andes mountains, provided an unbelievable backdrop everywhere you looked. And most importantly, I was surprised by the vibrancy of such a tight-knit community which we were able to experience through playing daily soccer games, chatting with community leaders who were always willing to assist us, and bringing home backpacks full of delicious oranges gifted to us by the community’s children throughout the day.

Our visit to Carijana, Bolivia, as cliché as it sounds, has been something I have reflected on periodically throughout the past year. Not only were we able to complete this important milestone in our project and establish a relationship with the community, but I think each one of us was personally impacted by this trip in different ways. In the future, I look forward to continuing to work with Carijana, PittEWB, and EIA as we work towards supporting the community’s need for an improved sanitation system.

EIA Interns “bringing their education to life.”

Posted on: July 13, 2020

Karina Subieta, Intern at FIEA Bolivia

It’s rare to have an experience so unforgettable and life-changing that it jolts you into remembering the true meaning behind those words. But that is exactly what the internship at Engineers in Action (EIA) in Bolivia was for me.

The EIA internship helped bring my education to life, as it allowed me to see full-circle how what I learned in school is used to construct real projects that make an invaluable difference in people’s lives. The experience also increased my marketability for water engineering jobs, since it taught me skills that these positions often require. Water sampling, measuring flow rates from springs and streams, surveying, design tips for water conveyance systems, and irrigation and chlorination concepts, just to name a few. While preparing a grant application, I also gained experience preparing a project budget, schedule, and scope of work, which is highly useful for any engineering job.

It was fun to do hands-on construction work that I not was able to do in my previous professional jobs, such as building faucets from individual valves and piping components, laying piping for water conveyance systems, and making preparations for pouring cement to make water catchment structures.

The true magic was meeting the Bolivian people in the communities where EIA is working to bring clean water and sanitary facilities. The community members worked alongside us during project implementation to break ground, lay pipe, and do other tasks. Through this interaction, you get to know the amazing people of the Bolivian communities. And knowing the people you help makes it even more rewarding when you finish a project. Words cannot describe the feeling you get watching someone open their new faucet for the first time and see water pouring out. Seeing their elation and excitement and knowing that you helped make this happen—helped change someone’s life for the better—reminds you that this is why you became an engineer.

The EIA Bolivia team was instrumental in making my internship so productive and rewarding. The engineers and health professional all actively involved me in their projects and always took the time to answer any questions I had. Everyone in the Bolivia office made me feel welcome and supported. I enjoyed working with the EIA Bolivia team so much that I extended my 6-month internship and ended up staying for over a year.

Many thanks to EIA for this unique opportunity. Please keep up your impactful work that is changing so many lives. I know that mine will never be the same, as my EIA experience has given me tools and an enhanced perspective that will allow me to better serve others.

A Passion for Building Change. Meet Ethan Gingerich, Bridge Program Director

Posted on: June 30, 2020

It wasn’t until high school that I fully realized the injustice that, despite no doing of my own, I had been born with so many resources and opportunities while so many others around the world had not. The more I learned, the more convinced I became that I had a responsibility to use those resources and opportunities to give back to those less fortunate than me. That led me to major in engineering to learn how to solve problems and help those most in need. After two years of engineering school, though, I was sure I’d made the wrong choice. Rather than becoming a global change-maker, I felt like I had become a dot on a bell curve, pointlessly wasting my life jumping through manufactured academic hoops to get a degree that wouldn’t help anyone but myself. I was clinically depressed and on the verge of dropping out. But that’s when I found out about Bridges to Prosperity (B2P). 

B2P’s mission was to end poverty caused by rural isolation by building footbridges over impassable rivers. Finally, a chance to use my skills to help people! I promptly joined the student chapter at my university and built footbridges in Nicaragua during my final two years. Working alongside those communities and seeing how their lives were transformed by the bridges we built together transformed my life as well. It gave me purpose and motivation to finish my degree and become an engineer who could continue that type of work for life. I began to see how the skills I was learning in my classes could be used to improve our bridge designs and school suddenly felt worthwhile. My teammates became my best friends. I had found my calling and my life’s work, and it was bridge building. 

After graduating I stayed involved with B2P, first as a member of the Board of Directors and later as the part-time University Program Coordinator. It was immensely fulfilling to guide scores of new students each year through the same learning process that had transformed my life and see it transform their lives as well, especially when their work resulted in more footbridges connecting more communities to life-changing resources and opportunities. When B2P made the difficult decision to end their University Program in order to focus on scaling their more lucrative programs, I knew we had to keep it alive. Backed by the support of dozens of passionate alumni like myself, we made the transition to Engineers in Action in 2018 and haven’t looked back. The EIA bridge builder family has allowed me to not only become the global change-maker I sought to be, but mentor hundreds of new students to do the same each  year.

Six Books for Future Bridge Builders

Posted on: June 24, 2020

Julie Allen, Educator, Researcher and Executive Director

Our month-long celebration of bridge building has been an inspiration. From the stories of communities forever changed by an EIA bridge to the people who make it happen, we have been on a journey of hope.

More times than I can count, photos of our bridges around the world have prompted the question, “How did they do that?”  

Simple answer? Great Engineering and Great Engineers.

Although we don’t know exactly what and where we’ll be building in 20 years, we do know that we will need gifted and passionate engineers to meet the challenges of the future.

To inspire the next generation of EIA builders and leaders, here are 6 of my favorite “bridge” titles for our youngest followers.  

A Book of Bridges: Here to There and Me to You

Cheryl Keely and illustrator Celia Krampion introduce readers to bridges of all kinds, in places around the world. Whether they be big bridges or small, this book helps us see that the true purpose of a bridge is to bring people together. Readers ages 5-8.

Tinyville Town Gets to Work! 

When a town needs a bridge, everyone gets to work. And like the bridges that EIA builds, this one is the result of a whole town coming together to improve their community. By Abrams Appleseed. Readers ages 3-5.

How Do Bridges Not Fall Down

If you’ve ever been with a kid who can’t cross a bridge without asking , “Why doesn’t it fall down?” this is a must for your reading list.  Author and illustrator Jennifer Shand and Srimalie Bassani provide the basics of architecture and engineering through a well-balanced combination of photos, diagrams and engaging text. Readers ages 7-10.

Bridges Are to Cross 

A truly global exploration of bridges and how each one, no matter its size or purpose, reflects our culture and values.  The design and engineering of each featured bridge is creatively illustrated through a combination of drawing, painting and three-dimensional papercut pictures.  Readers ages 4-8 (but this is a beautiful addition to any bridge-lovers collection) By Philemon Struges.

Building Bridges 

Hands-on projects for learning how bridges are made. Accessible text, color photographs and well-built “lessons” that include key terms and an overview of bridge types. Written by civil engineer Tammy Enz and a part of the series Young Engineers, for readers ages 7-8  

Pop’s Bridge 

When it was completed in 1937, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was hailed as an international marvel. Eve Bunting’s fictional account of its construction celebrates the ingenuity and courage of every person who helped raise this majestic icon. The story is supported by the creative illustrations of C.F. Payne, bringing to life the truth that when people come together they can accomplish just about anything. Readers 4-7

All of these titles are available at Amazon. When you order, don’t forget to log in to Amazon Smile and support Engineers in Action with your purchase.

The Bridge at Siatha

Posted on: June 23, 2020

Kacie Wolverton, Bridge Program Manager

The further you go, the warmer it gets. Descending along a winding, narrow dirt road, only a sheer drop-off separates you from the growing river several hundred feet below as it accompanies you on the journey downward. Soon you’ve passed from freezing mist floating along the barren landscape of the Bolivian altiplano to sweating profusely in the tropical jungle of northern La Paz.

As you go, you pass small mud shacks, humble houses, and an occasional school building. Even amongst this wild, seemingly forgotten land – even here – men and women eke out a living. Yet the gift of this land is also its curse. The people here are not wealthy in many senses of that word, but they are rich in water. It springs forth readily from the ground and majestically spills down from grand waterfalls. It also rages year round in massive rivers that tear the land apart. Evidence of its rampages, gigantic boulders sit strewn along the river gorge as if marbles tossed by giants. And it is as such that this life giving liquid violently forces the people here to settle onto small parcels of land near the road.

It is no wonder the people question what they are doing. Should they pack up and try to make it in the city? How can a family make it here? No matter how defiant, how long can a young man risk his life trying to cross the raging river to his farm on the other side? If they build their house on the other side, how will the children get to school as they grow? And it is as such that many are pushed to abandon their homes to seek opportunity in the already overcrowded city.

Unless of course, a safe crossing could be built across the expanse over the river. If it was only so simple, they would have done it already. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty, but building a bridge is no easy task. Immense amounts of planning, management, and coordination are required. Not to mention the months of back-breaking labor, challenges that demand engineering skill combined with practical ingenuity, and the iron will to make the dream a reality. Yet this challenge they will not face alone.

This is the niche of Engineers in Action. Combining the fortitude of a community with the engineering skill and resources of EIA forges a new future for these communities. Hand-in-hand, and brick-by-brick, a new reality is sweatily built across the span of distinct cultures and geographies while creating safe access from communities to markets, schools, and medical care.

Today an 81-meter pedestrian bridge spans the roaring Camata River, providing year-round safe crossing for all. And it is as such that the community of Siatha kept the youth in the community; that they were able to build new homes on the other side, without fear of risking their lives and investments; that they worked with agronomists to develop coffee cultivation and dared once again to dream of a better future for their families.