Students looking to work and perform community service while traveling abroad will benefit from this weekend’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) West Coast Workshop.
Cal Poly’s chapter of the non-profit humanitarian organization has been selected to host the workshop on campus, which is open to students of all majors as well as professionals already working in the field.
EWB partners with disadvantaged communities in developing countries to improve their quality of life. Some projects include helping to build proper homes and health care clinics to digging wells and providing sanitary water in places like Nicaragua, Thailand and Laos.
“Our goal is to help them out by implementing sustainable projects,” said Gregg Fiegel, civil environmental engineering professor and advisor to EWB. “Environmentally sustainable (projects) but also sustainable in the long term to the point where they’re empowered to help out with the work and then to maintain and continue on with the work that we do in the future.”
The Cal Poly chapter also works on local projects such as stabilizing a creek embankment in Poly Canyon to prevent it from collapsing into the creek and nearby road.
The workshops this weekend will include lectures and demonstrations from Cal Poly faculty and engineering professionals as well as those with experience working with non-profit groups or writing grants.
Students will participate as well. Civil engineering senior Mark Fischer, who spent this past summer with EWB in Thailand working with locals, will be giving a speech about interlocking compressor blocks.
“We were trying to keep the people living in the region,” Fischer said. “It’s so poor, everyone’s going to Bangkok, they had to live out there to support their families. So we created more local jobs.using local materials.”
Topics covered in the workshop will range from technical lectures demonstrating the engineering aspects of the projects to non-technical presentations on anthropology, cultural sensitivity and communication skills.
Fiegel said that the workshops will be more than just classroom speeches.
“Cal Poly tried to be more hands-on,” he said. “So they’re going to have the power point and the lectures on the board.but then they’ll get their hands-on experience with the pumps being demonstrated or the compressor blocks being built or going out to the field and actually seeing how a water well is drilled.”
Environmental engineering senior Steve Barr said EWB has been trying to recruit non-engineering majors to come on the trips.
“We’re expanding our majors, looking for people into health and the sciences,” Barr said. “Also business, because business tends to be a big part of world development work.”
The club also welcomes anthropology majors to help EWB volunteers understand other cultures, biology majors to study environmental issues related with the project, and agriculture majors to help with ventures such as irrigation. Students studying foreign languages can also help by working as language and cultural interpreters.
“There’s ways in which everybody on campus could be involved,” Fiegel said. I think you see more and more students who want to use what they’ve learned to help people. We’re getting more of a world view.”
The workshop will be held today through Sunday with sign-in from 6 to 7 p.m. tonight in Chumash Auditorium. It costs $35 for EWB members and $40 for non-members.