By Graig Graziosi
Engineering majors study to become problem solvers in a wide variety of disciplines and situations. For the newly formed Engineers Without Borders chapter at Youngstown State University, participating students hope to use their skills to help solve problems across the globe.
Engineers Without Borders USA was incorporated in 2002 and is comprised of engineers and non-engineers working towards sustainable solutions to global problems. The organization boasts 286 chapters nationwide and serves 39 countries.
The newly formed chapter was chartered during the spring semester; however, a shaky start stunted the group’s initial growth. After a restructuring and a renewed recruitment effort, interest in the group has spiked, and the organization is hoping to pursue their first major project.
Senior Nick Fischer, the president of YSU’s EWB chapter, has worked for the past year to rally interest in the organization and to ensure the group is run according to EWBUSA national standards.
“Last semester when we first chartered it was a rocky start. We lost an adviser and a lot of students just lost interest while we were looking to replace the adviser,” Fischer said. “This semester it really took off though. There’s been a lot more interest.”
BUILDING A CHAPTER
The group’s first challenges were securing the right to call themselves an official EWB chapter, as well as raising union dues and learning how to properly run the chapter.
Fischer filed all the necessary paperwork and accompanied five members of his group to a conference in Washington, D.C. where the team learned how to manage their chapter. To pay for the trip and their dues sophomore Jacob Millerleile, the organization’s treasurer, helped run fundraisers through the chapter’s fundraiser committee.
“We raised enough money to take care of our initial costs and had enough left over to fund our trip to D.C.,” Millerleile said. “Our next goal is to fund our first overseas engineering project.”
The initial engineering project, should finances and logistics work out, will take the team to Mbeng, Cameroon to help bring a clean water source to a town in the area. Currently, Fischer is searching for a professional mentor with international development experience to accompany the team.
“Generally the national organization wants us to partner with three professional mentors, one with design experience, one with construction experience and one with international experience. We have two: Tony Vercellino from civil and environmental engineering and Patrick O’ Brien in construction. We’re still looking for a local professional with international development experience,” Fischer said.
The group is not only looking for mentors, but more student members as well. Engineering students are obviously welcome, but Fischer hopes non-engineering students will join the organization as well.
“Obviously for Cameroon we’d welcome any students who could speak French. We’re looking for business students to help us with grants and helping secure corporate sponsors and English students to help us with grant writing,” he said. “You don’t need to be an engineer to make a difference here.”
Once the group is assembled and the money is secure, YSU’s EWB chapter would then carry out their project in Cameroon, after which they would be required to maintain contact with the local population for a minimum of five years, ensuring the community could maintain and repair their project once they fully leave the region.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF CHANGE
Kelsey Kojetin, the communications manager for the Engineers Without Borders national office, explained the philosophy behind their five-year requirement.
“We want to make sure all of our projects are sustainable … the EWB members on the ground can help the local communities by teaching them how to build and maintain a project. We try to think in the long-term when it comes to aid projects,” Kojetin said. “Instead of our organization seeking out opportunities among communities, communities request us. They fill out a request form and then we work on sending a team.”
Though Fischer is in his final year, he hopes to leave future students interested in the EWB organization with a sustainable leadership plan. He said he believes his work is worth giving students an outlet for the skill they’ve learned at YSU.
“Everyone is excited; everyone wants to help,” he said. “EWB lets you apply the knowledge you’ve gained at YSU to help radically change the lives of others.”