After graduating from VMI in 1997, I found myself diving into a job and looking for a place to call home. Accepting a commission in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and working as an environmental consultant was fantastic, but my soul needed somewhere to breathe. I went on with my life, spending 8 years in the Air Force Reserves and working for almost 10 years before deciding that getting my PhD was next on the list.
While working on my PhD at Virginia Tech, I came across many organizations and opportunities to provide field level engineering support in developing countries. I chose to work in El Salvador and Haiti. Nothing can prepare a person for what they may see in one of these countries and no experience can really compare to Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere and only a 1.5 hour flight from Miami.
However, one thing I found to be true in every instance of working with impoverished communities, my soul WAS breathing and I could literally feel my heart beating and growing for these people. Through my experience with international aid, I came across Engineers Without Borders at Virginia Tech. A nationally recognized, student run hodge podge of amazing faculty and hard working students interested only in making the world a better place and how they could do it. This happened in 2006.
In 2010, I was lucky enough to be able to come back to VMI as a faculty member of the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department (VMI-CEE). As a 1997 graduate of VMI, I knew right away that EWB was perfect for VMI and that the VMI mission and the concept of the citizen soldier would fit in well with the EWB mission of providing impoverished communities with sustainable engineering designs aimed at meeting basic human needs, which by all accounts can be considered a basic human right as well.
In December of 2010, VMI established a Chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Interest was impressive and in January of 2011, the program had a full Cadet administrative staff and a clear goal – clean water for the people of Pampoyo Bolivia. Through interaction and teaming with a local professional EWB Chapter, the group was able to hit the ground running, the next step….recruitment. Seven students strong, we knew we would need more interaction, and a collaborative program like EWB deserved to be shared with W&L students. Three students from W&L immediately picked up on the idea and joined the VMI Chapter in the quest for water for the Pompoyan people. With a group of 11 strong, we worked countless hours together toward the next steps…….developing a clear implementation plan for getting water to the people of Pampoyo.