Since 2005, Fort Lewis College’s Engineers Without Borders Program has made continuous efforts in providing sustainable solutions for the problems faced by developing communities around the world.
Since the first construction project in Thailand during the summer of 2005, the program’s goal remains the same and follows their belief that all people should have access to basic rights including health, safety, and the ability to provide for themselves and their families.
Don May, a professor of engineering and the program director, who has been on roughly 18 trips over the past 10 years with the program, will lead a group of FLC students to villages in Ecuador and Nicaragua this summer.
“I say we, but it’s really the community. Our job is not to go in and build or give them projects. Our job is to go in and help them develop the expertise and the capacity so that they can build projects,” May said.
The preparation for individuals involved in the program starts at the very beginning of the fall semester and continues through the winter semester, said May.
During this time, May said, students meet often and are trained to fully understand all that goes into their participation in the program and to gain knowledge into what they are responsible for while abroad.
Engineers Without Borders is not only a departmental program but also a level-two Registered Student Organization whose members fundraise throughout the year to assist with their costs of travel that they are personally responsible for, May said.
The program is open to all students on campus regardless of their majors and has received participants from most or all departments, May said.
“We were one of the first groups in the country to have non-engineering students. It’s been a real benefit and now a lot of other schools are actively seeking students from other departments because different people have different skills. Engineering is about a third of the work, two-thirds of the work are all those other people skills-- finances, health, education. So we need a broad range of expertise,” May said.
Noah Garcia, a sophomore and engineering major with a minor in Spanish, began his involvement with the program when he was a freshman as a translator for a group travelling to Ecuador last summer.
Garcia’s interest in alternative energy and his fluency in the Spanish language influenced his decision to join the program, he said.
Garcia said that his favorite part of the trips abroad is his interaction with the people while being able to see the world in a new way.
“I’m interacting with people who just are living in such a different way, who have such a rich life despite what the world sees as underdeveloped,” he said.
“They have so much to teach as much as we have to teach them,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s involvement in the program as a translator requires him not only to be able to communicate with the people from the villages but also to be knowledgeable in all aspects of the program, he said.
“I generally have to have a pretty broad knowledge of every aspect. That way, I can help and be engaging and actually be a productive interpreter on site and during the projects. People are doing drawings and designs. I’ll be a part of that,” Garcia said.
Garcia, along with nine other participants will be going to a village in northern Nicaragua this summer, he said.
More information regarding the Engineers Without Borders Program including how to join, past projects and videos can be found on the program’s webpage on the FLC website.