Engineers Without Frontiers students tackle projects far from campus

June 03, 2003

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State student members of Engineers Without Frontiers (EWF) are traveling and engaging in design/build and research projects in developing communities far from the comforts of campus, including recent work in the poorest areas of El Salvador and Jamaica.

EWF is a student organization that puts engineering students (and students from any discipline) to work on technical problems in developing communities, immersing them in culturally different environments to develop a greater global perspective, enhance communication and team building skills, and employ project management and design talents. A sustainable presence is maintained in the host community through partnerships with local universities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and community leadership.

In El Salvador, EWF is working with the University of Central America, while in Jamaica, the group is collaborating with the University of Technology.

The first two groups of students from Penn State traveled to El Salvador in March. One group surveyed the community of Nueva Esperanza about a proposed bridge site, producing topographic maps for use in construction projects. A second group of students evaluated various housing retrofitting solutions and repaired two homes that had been damaged by earthquakes.

In May, three additional groups of students were active -- two groups in Jamaica and one in El Salvador. For the Jamaica trip, students traveled the length and breadth of the island gathering information from poultry farmers about their needs for an anaerobic digester with methane production. They also met with a number of NGOs and government officials about the project. The methane will be used to supplement propane heating of broiler housing on the farms.

The collaborating students from the University of Technology are to travel to Penn State in the fall to examine the prototype of such a system being constructed by the Penn State students. An industrial sponsor in Jamaica is seeking solutions and funding the project.

A second group of students in Jamaica focused on the concerns of the dairy industry over how best to address the need for a portable milk drying system.

The students who traveled to El Salvador continued the work on retrofitting earthquake-damaged housing. They also finalized plans for construction of the bridge in Nueva Esperanza that will begin late this fall. The bridge will allow wounded war veterans access to their agricultural lands without having to wade across chest deep waters.

The work on such "real life" engineering projects has led the EWF members to engage in fundraising efforts through a variety of activities, private donations, and grants from Penn State's Africana Research Center, Department of Energy and Geo-Environmental Engineering, Women in Engineering Program, Women in Science and Engineering Program, Minority in Engineering Program, and Black Studies Program, among others. There was even an El Salvador "papusa" sale held in Albuquerque, N.M., to assist in fundraising. Additional projects are planned for the fall and spring. 

For more information about the Engineers Without Frontiers at Penn State, visit or contact faculty adviser Thomas Colledge at

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Last Updated March 19, 2009