Mechanical Engineering, Senior
Which international opportunity did you get involved with?
I had the wonderful opportunity this past year to be a part of the Global Engineering Outreach study abroad class. The GEO program is a yearlong humanitarian engineering design course that concludes in a study abroad opportunity for students. Approximately 20 BYU engineering students and 2 mentors used this course to study design solutions for problems in third world countries and developed customized solutions for specific problems identified by people near Cuzco and Puno Peru. These projects included developing safer and more efficient cook stoves, hand powered washing machine, a reed-cutting device and an oven that can be used to cook on islands made of reeds. After two semesters of work we, the students, and mentors traveled to Peru with our new found knowledge to share it with the people there and help them improve their lives.
What was the experience like?
This particular story exemplifies how the trip went.
By the time we reached our last Thursday there, my friend and I had concluded all of our research with the cook stoves and turned our efforts to helping our friends work on their prototypes. In the middle of the day a villager (on Lake Titicaca) approached Dr. Lewis and asked if the students could show him how a water pump worked. There was a pump there that had been left by a previous GEO group, however the group hadn’t left sufficient instructions for the villagers to be able to replicate the design on their own. Dr. Lewis assigned us the task of figuring out how it worked and then demonstrating it to the villagers by Friday, our last day there. Since Engineers don’t know how to say “no” in the face of a challenge, we accepted and went to work. Two days, two engineers, one pump and no worries. We spent the remainder of that first day examining the only pump in the village as best we could, and reading the hastily written instructions and list of supplies from the group before. After getting back to Puno at the end of the day we tried to find the supplies we needed. For an American and a Canadian in country where almost no one speaks English, we did pretty well. The next morning we headed out early with one of our translators to find the rest of the supplies. We then spent Friday morning building the pump. Sound simple? Our instructions were comprised of a mostly buried pump, a list of parts (in Spanish) and a vague description from a fellow student. Our supplies: bits of pipe from the local market, a bicycle tire, two buckets, and one Leatherman. Our result: half a pump (someone dropped the other half in the lake) and several Peruvians with a firm understanding of how pumps work and how to build one of their own.
Was the experience worth the work, time and money?
I had a wonderful time in Peru for a variety of reasons. As with all study abroad trips the opportunity to learn from native Peruvians about their history, language and culture was absolutely priceless. Add to that the privilege of learning and teaching engineering concepts and problem solving skills and the result is the best two weeks of my life. While I remember the time fondly, it wasn’t all easy and rosy. We encountered language barriers, supply barriers and ample amounts of uncertainty as to our real purpose.
So, would I go again? In a heartbeat. Sacrificing the time, money and work for this trip was more than made up for in the experience gained. We were able to work with a group of people and help make their lives better with the engineering and technical knowledge we shared with them. I encourage any engineering student to take the time to go on a study abroad, especially one where they can learn more about engineering.