U engineering students take a break to help in Guatemala

The students are part of Engineers Without Borders, a national nonprofit organization.

by Jeannine Aquino

While some University students will be lounging in Cancún, Mexico, for spring break, two civil engineering juniors will spend theirs in Guatemala scouting for future engineering projects.

Kristoffer Langlie and Andrew Sander, along with several professional civil engineers, will spend a week in San Juan, Comalapa, to see which projects need to be done to benefit the community. The two will go as part of Engineers Without Borders, a national group that allows students to work on small-scale engineering projects for developing communities around the world.

“It’s an opportunity to really help people, all politics aside, all differences aside,” said David Gasperino, president of the University chapter.

The group started in fall 2004, but faced several challenges in finding projects and money, Gasperino said.

In 2005 the group attempted to partner with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Seattle University chapters to work on a project in Doi Santi, Thailand. The group planned to convert the only school in Doi Santi to an educational center with student dormitories and a water sanitation system.

Gasperino said a lack of money was a deciding factor in holding back on the project.

This year’s collaboration with Minnesota’s professional chapter of Engineers Without Borders and a $1,000 donation from a local engineering firm made the Guatemala trip possible this semester.

The group has about 20 members, but Gasperino said there might be more members when the chapter plans specific projects.

Langlie said he decided to become involved with the organization because he wanted to make a difference.

“A few months of students working on a project can change the lives of people in underdeveloped countries,” he said. “There are so many engineers that just a little time and just a little money can go a long way for these people.”

Langlie and Sander plan to look into possible sustainable projects created out of local materials, particularly in water irrigation and sanitation. Sander said he hopes their efforts will help further establish the organization at the University.

“Ultimately, we want to improve the standard of living any way we can,” Sander said. “It’s a cool feeling to make a difference and feel like you’re changing someone’s life.”

A University of Colorado engineering professor started Engineers Without Borders in 2000 after the successful implementation of a water irrigation system in San Pablo, Belize. The nonprofit organization has more than 100 projects in 30 countries, including Rwanda, Uganda, Guatemala, Peru, Ghana and others, said project manager Meg VanSciver.