Larissa in Peru with a local woman in her kitchen

Larissa Cannon

Mechanical Engineering, Graduate 2013

What international experience have you had?

I participated in the Global Engineering Outreach class and traveled to Peru. I was on a six-member team consisting of three mechanical engineering students, two chemical engineering students and one civil engineering student. Together, we developed the first iteration of a stove-top oven for the people of the Los Uros Islands. Our team had just the right combination of skill, personality and talent to make the project successful and fun! Our tests often consisted of cooking food which provided time to talk and get to know each other. The islands are manmade from reeds and float on Lake Titicaca. The lake is located in the Andes Mountains on the border between Peru and Bolivia. It is the largest lake in South America and sits at an altitude of 12,507 feet.

The touristy highlight of the trip was definitely visiting Machu Picchu. However, as excited as I was to see Machu Picchu, the best moment of the entire trip was the when I knew we had come up with a good design. Our last day on the Los Uros Islands, we planned to demonstrate the oven’s functionality to interested members of the community. We had lent the oven to Dora (the wife of Nelson, the islander who helped us with the design) and we needed to use it for the demonstration. When I walked in the kitchen, Dora had a pan of biscuits cooking and had already made cookies that morning. She excitedly told me that they had plans to make a potato casserole and desserts later that day. I was supposed to come back in a few hours to borrow the oven. As an engineer, it can be easy to get absorbed in the technical details of a project, but this moment provided me with the opportunity to see the positive outcome from our work and the real reason for having spent eight months developing the design. Hearing the islanders answer to us, “No, we’ve never seen anything like this before” gave me the satisfaction that we were sharing new ideas with them. I saw that the islanders were eager to understand the projects and were quick to innovate. I learned that they could understand principles of physics without knowing the mathematical equation to explain their knowledge.

 

What have you learned through your experience in engineering abroad?

Each working day was hardly a vacation. The days were filled with a challenging search for transportation, directions, money exchange, safe food, tools and supplies. We had to make a lot of decisions very quickly. It was a matter of considering a variety of pros and cons. The perfect solution was rare, but I learned that there was always a workable solution; the challenge was simply to find it.

Throughout the trip, I was grateful for the time we had invested during the previous eight months in gathering data and feedback from the islanders and other Peruvians. The Peruvians were eager to share their culture with us. They look for love, happiness and success in life. I decided to take the Global Engineering Outreach class because I wanted to have an impact on people’s lives, use my engineering knowledge to help others and learn about another culture. I feel more than satisfied from this experience and would highly recommend this study abroad for all engineers.