Engineering Faculty, Students Assess Humanitarian Needs in the Dominican Republic

Participants: Dr. Truc Ngo (Assistant Professor, Industrial & Systems Engineering), Jeremiah Medina (Senior, Mechanical Engineering), Louis Benson (Senior, Mechanical Engineering)

Host: Joana Peterson, San Pedro Parish Destination: El Cercado, San Juan province, Dominican Republic

Dr. Ngo traveled to El Cercado, a rural town in the southern part of Dominican Republic, over 2014 Spring break with two mechanical engineering students to assess opportunities for USD engineering students from all majors to get involved through future class projects and humanitarian working trips venues. During this trip, they were gracefully hosted by Ms. Joana Peterson, an American from New York, who has dedicated much of her life to help improve the lives of others in the Dominican Republic. The group visited several different communities scattered in different parts of town, learning about the culture, daily living, current agricultural practices and developments, business opportunities, food and water availability and access, along with many problems that the El Cercado people were facing.

During the trip, the team had opportunities to visit children’s school, food factory, people’s homes and talk to the locals to learn about the daily challenges that both adults and children have to deal with every day in order to survive. They were also able to witness firsthand this transitional period in the lives of the people of El Cercado, as they begin to learn how to grow organic foods and plant nutrients in their own community gardens.

“All of us thought that the experience that we had on our trip was so valuable, more than what we had expected at the beginning of the trip,” Dr. Truc Ngo.

Not only had they accomplished their mission of identifying opportunities for both faculty and students to involve in the community, from research to education, but also they were able to learn so much about the culture, living practices and challenges of the people in the town of El Cercado. The team came back from the trips with several research and class projects, one of which they have already started to work on this summer. In addition, the shared experience has inspired other engineering students, resulting in a class project proposal leading to water solution to many remote mountain villages in the Dominican Republic. The team hopes to return to the Dominican Republic during the winter break of 2015 with more student and faculty participation, to implement some of the their solutions. Particularly those involving water and cooking means to help improve the health and lives of the people in El Cercado.

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