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Irish engineers continue service work in Nicaragua

By CAROLINA WILSON | Wednesday, September 25, 2013

 

Members of Notre Dame Students Empowering through Engineering Development (NDSEED) are preparing for the organization’s seventh year of community outreach with plans to build a bridge in Mata de Tules, Nicaragua.

NDSEED is the University’s chapter of a multi-national non-governmental organization called “Bridges to Prosperity,” 

Each year since Feburary 2008, six engineering students from the University have combined their passion for academics and for social service in designing and constructing a bridge for a community in Central America. 

Senior and Project Manager Maria Krug said this year’s location is not far from the bridge that was built last year. 

“Mata de Tules is less than a kilometer from the site where they built this past summer,” Krug said. “So we already talked to the community and they’re all thrilled for us to come back.” 

Senior Spencer Ness said the project includes a team trip during fall break to assess the land and the community, as well as an eight-week trip during the summer of 2014.  

“We fundraise for the entire project, we design the entire project, and then we go down and build it with the community. We’ll go down during fall break for our assessment trip where we’ll survey our site and come back and go through our entire design process with some advice from different faculty here and members of bridges of prosperity staff,” Ness said. 

During the fundraising process each year NDSEED raises an average of $28,000. Sophomore Jonathan Weiler said the bulk of donations have always come from generous alumni donors, although selling apparel at football tailgates raises some money.

“The biggest money comes from donations,” Weiler said. “You can only sell so much apparel for $20. So when we get some of our generous alumni or local organizations to contribute, it is so important to us and to the completion of the project.”

Sophomore Andres Gutierrez said he hopes word will spread about the mission of the project and organization at large. 

“Although we’re standing out in tailgates to try and sell apparel, the most important aspect is making ourselves visible, getting out there,” Gutierrez said. “People walk by and may buy a sweatshirt, but what’s important is that they ask what NDSEED is.”

The goal of this 2014 group is to really grow from the experiences of past teams, junior Angelene Dascanio said.

“We are building from the previous years and also helping next year’s team. So last year’s team actually chose our site for this year. That way, we will actually be assessing last year’s bridge, doing an annual inspection on it and ultimately choosing next year’s site after we complete our own project,” Dascanio said. “Our group has evolved from just doing our bridge, to helping last year’s initiatives and contributing to next year’s successes.”

This past weekend, some NDSEED members attended the Bridge for Prosperity Bridge Builder’s Conference in Tenn

“It was a weekend of camping in the Smoky Mountains with about 10 other university teams. They put on some workshops for us to learn some of the critical construction stages of the bridge. They also had presentations from people that have dedicated their lives to this organization,” Krug said. “In general, it was an extremely motivating and inspiring experience.”

Dascanio said the most memorable piece of advice she received was the importance of the group’s ability to establish a strong relationship with the community of Mata de Tules

“That’s something we really learned at the conference this past weekend, the key part of our project is building the bridge with the community. We’re not building the bridge for the community. We’re building the bridge with the community,” Dascanio said. “The bridge becomes more of a model of what they accomplished themselves, not just this gift that was given to them.”

Guitterrez said without relationship and communication between the students and the community, the project would not complete its mission. 

“I think that building that relationship gives the bridge itself a life, making it another member of the community because if they put so much effort over five-six weeks over the summer,” Gutierrez said. “The most important thing is the relationship. If the relationship with the community does not exist, pretty much the project is nothing.”

The team is ready to face inevitable challenges that will come up during their initial visit during fall break. These include establishing contacts, initiating a relationship with the community,and maximizing their time there, Ness said. 

“Material procurement for construction is one of our biggest challenges, along with establishing contacts in the community, making sure that there is a lot of community involvement,” Ness said. 

Krug said keeping communication with the community after fall break is another important obstacle they most overcome. 

“Keeping that communication with the community from when we return after fall break to our next visit in May is going to be one of our biggest challenges,” Krug said. “We leave them with some tasks that we hope will be accomplished by the time we come back, and we need to establish some way of making sure that actually happens.”

Sophomore Nick Hauser said members of the University community should watch for a commercial about NDSEED during the USC game on Oct. 19. 

“For the USC game, NBC is running a ‘What Will You Fight For?’ commercial that features NDSEED,” Hauser said. “We are really excited about that.”

To learn more about NDSEED, or to donate, visit ndseed.nd.edu.