Feb. 22, 2024

‘Change lives through engineering’

Students in NDSU’s Engineers Without Borders serve communities throughout the world and obtain valuable knowledge and skills that lead to a successful career.

Mak Schilling, a senior civil engineering major from Hartford, South Dakota, joined the student organization to gain more experience outside of the classroom.

“While I enjoy the classes I have taken at NDSU, I wanted a challenge,” Schilling said. “What I saw in EWB is a way to connect my learnings from class and developing a tangible project similar to what I will be doing once graduating.”

EWB-USA is a national non-profit, service-based organization made up of 300 chapters focused on creating sustainable solutions for infrastructure needs around the world. Paige Sanders, the president of NDSU’S EWB chapter, said the organization has three defining pillars: design, connect and serve. 

“As students get involved with our organization, they are provided with the opportunity to design real-world projects, connect with peers and professionals in the engineering industry and serve communities locally and internationally,” said Sanders, a sophomore environmental engineering major.

All the work done by NDSU’s chapter is 100% student-led, which includes fundraising, design work, calculations and documentation completed for each project. As president, Sanders’ primary responsibilities are to facilitate organization and communication. Sanders works closely with students, speaks with EWB international contacts in Guatemala and maintains communication with professional mentors from AE2S, an engineering consulting firm. 

Schilling, the structures lead with EWB, is responsible for organizing the design of projects. This includes completing detailed calculations, design guides, construction drawings, along with anything else needed to complete a project.  

The students’ work is put toward a project that impacts a community. Currently students are working on a water distribution system for La Providencia, Guatemala, located about two hours northwest of Guatemala City. Nestled in the Sierra Madre Mountains, residents in La Providencia don’t have access to running water or electricity. Residents walk over three miles roundtrip to access a polluted spring, which is their only water source. 

The water distribution system will supply clean water to each household, serving over 400 residents throughout the next 20 years with minimal maintenance. Right now, the project is estimated to cost $31,000 and will be fully paid for by NDSU’s EWB chapter.

Select students are set to travel to La Providencia this academic year to assist in implementing the system. Once completed, EWB will start work on a new project in a different country, while also following-up on the water distribution system.  

Past projects entailed constructing a three-room school house, a community center and a water distribution system in Las Tablitas, Guatemala. In addition to their international work, students in EWB also work locally on K-12 educational projects. 

Sanders and Shillings said they have gained several skills from their involvement in EWB. Both have learned how to effectively communicate, work in professional settings and have become more detail-oriented. 

Achintya Bezbaruah, the interim department chair for NDSU civil, construction and environmental engineering and EWB adviser, said the skills and experience students get from EWB is valued by employers.   

“Our students learn teamworking, communication, design and project management through their involvement in EWB projects. These are skills all employers look for in an employee,” Bezbaruah said. “The skill set our students gather here is the key for successful careers.”

Having that experience to make a stellar resume has been a boost for Schilling, who recently interned with Black and Veatch in Bloomington, Minnesota as a civil substation structural intern.

“Anytime that I go to a career fair and employers see my involvement on campus that is all we talk about,” Schilling said. “In fact, EWB specifically was the reason I got my internship last summer through my connection with the Minnesota Professional EWB chapter president.” 

Students from all disciplines are welcome to join EWB. 

“The majority of our leadership positions are currently held by sophomores. You don't need to be an upperclassman to change lives through engineering,” Sanders said. “Our organization is also 45 percent women, a statistic that you don't often see within engineering.”

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