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E-news Online November 2012


Summer Service Abroad Gives Engineering School Students an Opportunity to Change the World

By Erik Dornbush (’15)

Ariel Sayre giving a water filter demonstration

From late May to mid-August, four recently matriculated University of Virginia students took part in the Pacific Partnership, an engineering service partnership with the U.S. Naval Service’s (USNS) Mercy, one of the Navy’s leading hospital ships. This is the fourth time the U.Va School of Engineering and Applied Science has directed such cooperation for U.Va graduates.

The graduates, Ariel Sayre (CE ’12), Shannon Kerrigan (ME ’12), Kirk Millikan (CE ’12) and Roy Hanna (SE ’12), traveled to four countries in Southeast Asia, where they carried out engineering civil action programs that included services for the local communities ranging from implementation of water filtration devices to educating local officials. The graduates also were given the opportunity to engage in symposia and subject matter expert exchanges (SMEEs), where they learned directly from professionals of various fields.

One of the graduates’ tasks was the distribution of 120 donated water filters to towns throughout Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. They allocated 30 for each country. They installed many in clinics, schools, police stations and health departments throughout the area, although a majority were left for local officials to place. The volunteers also left toothbrushes and toothpaste to promote better hygiene and prevent diseases.

The USNS Mercy served as the volunteer base of operations. Naval regulars, civilian volunteers, medical personnel and engineers from around the globe were aboard the ship. The SEAS graduates were part of multidisciplinary teams that visited villages where they tested water sources, aided with improving school buildings and clinics, and educated the public on water filtration, solar energy and hygiene. On one team in particular, an entomologist discussed reducing the presence of mosquitos around villages. The teams worked to address well-being through multiple approaches.

Team members slept and ate on the ship and worked on projects in the community during the day. Some activities required that the graduates stay ashore overnight. One of these instances was in Melonguane, Indonesia, where the graduates examined the use of water within the community and distributed water filters. The direct and continual interaction with the locals gave the graduates insight into the culture of the people they were aiding. Millikan says, “We were very much immersed in the culture, which ended up being a unique experience compared with the other countries we visited.”

UCSD engineers and team leads

The students also were offered the chance to learn about engineering in a cultural context. At a SMEE on seawall design in the Philippines they met local engineering students and faculty and compared engineering education. They also learned about different countries’ engineering goals and practices. Millikan found that the engineering students shared educational experiences very much like his own. He valued the interaction with the other engineering students and has maintained contact with them.

This unique engineering service opportunity offered a large range of valuable experiences for U.Va graduates. Systems engineering Professor Garrick Louis, a proponent of worldwide water and sanitation services and the overseer of the Pacific Partnership, says, “The hands-on application of engineering knowledge in the service of humanity in cultural contexts outside the U.S. is an important aspect of the Pacific Partnership experience. Working alongside the Navy Construction Brigades and understanding that they can make a difference in the world through their engineering knowledge is invaluable. Ultimately, this is the purpose of their education.”