Lessons in Service: Students Improve Lives of Caribbean Villagers

For the second year in a row, students in the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering spent their January break between semesters volunteering in the Dominican Republic to improve the lives of villagers there.

Dominican Republic 2016

Building on the lessons learned from last year, “We accomplished not just what we set out to do but more,” said Truc Ngo, Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, who led the group on the 12-day mission to install chlorinators to improve the water supply, build stoves to reduce deforestation, and more.

Last year, students were able to complete two chlorinators to help prevent cholera and other diseases as they learned the differing physical layouts of the reservoirs in mountainous villages of El Cercado. This year, they were able to install six.

They also built 20 stoves, exceeding the goal of 15, that will use less wood and create less smoke during cooking. And they completed three solar water heaters, where hot water for bathing is a luxury that people can't afford, especially for the aged and the sick, along with a crop waste grinder and press for a women’s cooperative that will help reduce the cost and use of firewood used in processing locally grown foods into nutrition bars and other products that they can sell.

The 17 students who made the trip were impressed by the villagers’ hospitality and eagerness to improve their quality of life. They also learned valuable lessons in service and humanitarian engineering.

“What really has a bigger impact” noted Charlie Penn, a senior in mechanical engineering who also went last year, “is educating the villagers to operate and maintain the new equipment and even to learn how to do the projects themselves.”

The group’s accomplishments are “really impressive,” said Associate Dean of Engineering Rick Olson. It’s not just the contributions the students made in El Cercado but the experience they’ve gained in “how they can actually make a difference in the world.”

Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering students who participated in this year’s trip were Christopher Ashkar, Savanna Blair, Devyn Bryant, Carson Edwards, Hessah Hamad, Lauren Hoffman, Danford Jooste, Francisco Lobeira, Adriana Mangione, Jeremiah Medina, Charlie Penn, Chandler Rogers, Courtney Rogers, and Emma Schander. Katie Kuwahara from USD’s College of Arts and Sciences also participated along with Abdullah Alfoozan from Arizona State University and Hector Arias from University of California, Berkeley. Along with Professor Ngo, Lab Technician Sam Burt, and Deanna Wolf, Community Engagement and Border Immersion Assistant in USD’s Karen and Tom Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action, also made the trip and provided valuable assistance.