Engineering with purpose

Mar 10, 2006

Kettering University students have formed a chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA and have already starting working on a project to benefit children.

Taking the concept of "without borders" literally, the fledgling chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWBKU) at Kettering decided to focus its first project close to home. "They decided for their first project to look at the community Kettering sits in, Flint, Michigan, and they determined there was a need for self esteem building among Flint school children," said Dr. Laura Sullivan, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and faculty adviser to the group.

Looking for a project that involved engineering, would be permanent, that would appeal to Kettering students and could be accomplished in 10 weeks (the length of a Kettering academic term), the group decided to design and build climbing walls on the playground of every elementary school in the city school system.

"We have contacted the Flint Schools hoping to meet with their director of Facilities Management," said Mario Flores, of Saltillo, Mexico, and president of EWBKU. "There are currently 24 potential sites," he added.

"Our plan is to construct the components, have the post holes dug and have the pea gravel delivered during Zero Section," said Flores, referring to the three week break between semesters in June and July that precedes a new academic year. "Then, we would have a four-day build where the components are assembled at the sites.

Using Michigan Health and Safety guidelines, Matt Schwartz, of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Joey Campbell, of Fort Wayne, Ind., came up with a preliminary design for the structures that includes a climbing tower (easier to pre construct the panels) and a slide.

The group decided on the climbing walls as a way to help foster self esteem and team work opportunities among elementary-aged school children. Climbing walls are a staple element of programs designed to foster fitness, strength-building, confidence-building, balance, coordination, trust, teamwork, cooperation, problem-solving, risk-taking, communication, courage-building, patience-building, endurance-building, and leadership just to name a few.

Because climbing involves a combination of muscle strengthening and agility movements, it provides a unique opportunity for participants to simultaneously improve many components of physical fitness while engaging in a new and exciting mode of exercise.

For having received its charter in December of 2005, EWBKU is evolving rapidly. The idea of starting a chapter of the international organization at Kettering started with Sullivan and student Molly Doyle, who had participated in a mission trip to Mexico and returned with an interest in "giving students an opportunity to something big outside of themselves," said Doyle, of Flint, Mich.

"We wanted something that would take more than a weekend, something requiring a major sacrifice of time," Doyle said. They looked for an organization that could help fill those requirements and ensure that Kettering students would be safe while performing international service.

They found Engineers Without Borders - USA, a non-profit humanitarian organization established to partner with developing communities worldwide in order to improve their quality of life. This partnership involves the implementation of sustainable engineering projects, while involving and training internationally responsible engineers and engineering students.

Sullivan conducted an on-line survey of students to determine interest, and it didn't take long for the momentum to take hold. With a core group of seven officers, the group currently has more than 24 students show up for weekly meetings. "This project generates interest because it draws on our engineering strengths and allows us to apply them," said Flores. "No other club on campus is doing a project of this magnitude," added Campbell.

"It's nice to have something to focus on other than school," said Doyle. "At Kettering we doing stuff for ourselves to get through the term, this offers us an opportunity to focus on other people and look outside Kettering," she said.

"Once we get this project done and it is successful," said Flores, "we'll be able to build a group of people to do a project abroad."

To be successful, the group has a lot of work ahead of them to make their deadline of Zero Section. They are currently seeking help funding the cost of materials for the project. To help EWBKU, contact Flores at

More about EWB-USA:

The activities of EWB-USA range from the construction of sustainable systems that developing communities can own and operate without external assistance, to empowering such communities by enhancing local, technical, managerial, and entrepreneurial skills. These projects are initiated by, and completed with, contributions from the host community working with our project teams.

Mission: EWB-USA partners with developing communities to improve their quality of life through the implementation of environmentally sustainable, equitable, and economical engineering projects while developing internationally responsible engineers and engineering students.

Vision: EWB-USA's outward vision is a world where ALL people have access to the knowledge and resources with which to meet their basic human needs and promote sustainable development in such areas as water supply and sanitation, food production and processing, housing and construction, energy, transportation and communication, income generation, and employment creation.

EWB-USA promotes a new way of thinking for the engineering profession and provides unique opportunities for engineers to work in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders such as communities, social scientists, public health officials, economists, businesses, and international development organizations.


Written by Dawn Hibbard with additional information from the EWB-USA web site
(810) 762-9865