Engineers Without Borders Continuing to Serve in West Africa

Team recently helped build classroom for school in Togo

From left; Joey White, David Austin, Michael Costelli, Courtney Cunningham, Diana Kapanzhi, Maddie Costelli and Marni Kendricks

OXFORD, Miss. – Members of the University of Mississippi chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA have had an unforgettable summer. A seven-member team spent two weeks helping build classrooms at the Hedome Village school in west African nation of Togo.

“Design work and detailed planning was done over the fall 2012 and spring 2013 semesters by EWB students under the supervision of our professional mentor, Michael Costelli, a P.E. from Gulfport,” said Marni Kendricks, assistant dean in the School of Engineering and EWB adviser. “We received approval from EWB-USA to commence the construction phase of the project in August 2013.”

Team members included Kendricks, Costelli and students Maddie Costelli of Gulfport, Diana Kapanzhi of Oxford, Courtney Cunningham of Chicago (an August civil engineering graduate who begins a new job in Houston in September), David Austin of McComb and Joey White of Springfield, Ill.

The crew worked with 25 Hedome volunteers with plans to build the school’s four classrooms, library and administrative offices. Upon arrival, they encountered several obstacles, including language and cultural differences, limited personnel and resources.

“We didn’t fulfill our original objective, which was to finish building the first two classrooms,” Kendricks said. “Yet what we were able to accomplish was phenomenal, given the dire circumstances.”

Students said the experience showed them how resourceful, creative and determined they could be in a setting where classroom theories had to become hands-on, moment-by-moment reality.

“I discovered that in the field I have to quickly figure out how to adapt a plan into a useable product,” said Maddie Costelli, a senior civil engineering major and vice president of design for EWB. “I invented a way to make bolts from 14-millimeter-diameter iron rebar pieces available in the market. It was pretty incredible.”

Togolese volunteers work with Joey White to build beam forms.

White’s problem-solving skills were sharpened as well.

“My primary responsibility was making sure the poured-in-place beam forms were fitted and positioned correctly on the columns,” he said. “Learning how to improvise when building materials were not always up to specs showed me I can get a task done when necessary.”

Being women in leadership in a male-dominant culture boosted their confidence, Cunningham and Kaphanzi said.

“As the education lead, I had to make sure that the villagers understood why we were doing things the way we were doing them,” Kaphanzi said. “I learned how to express myself in several ways in order to make certain messages were not only understood, but accepted, too.”

“I learned that I have to stand up for myself and by my decisions,” Cunningham said. “I found that I can be very strong when I have to be.”

While the Togo experience will look great on his resume, Austin said it goes far beyond that.

“Being a part of this took me from design to practice, but it also made me realize that what engineers do really makes a positive difference in the lives of people,” he said. “Knowing what we did will somehow make their lives better is rewarding beyond words.”

The Ole Miss chapter of EWB-USA is accepting membership for the fall semester. Many incoming freshmen have expressed an interest in joining, Kendricks said.

The group meets regularly to discuss upcoming challenges, including fundraising and project establishment. Delegates attend the EWB-USA Southeast Regional workshop in October and the international conference over spring break.

While engineering students make up the majority of the chapter’s membership, students from other fields of study are welcome.

EWB-USA is a nonprofit humanitarian organization established to partner with developing communities worldwide to improve quality of life. The partnerships involve implementing sustainable engineering projects while involving and training internationally responsible engineers and engineering students.

Officers of the Ole Miss chapter are Jim Mosier, a senior mechanical engineering major from Oxford, president; Kris Keller, a junior electrical engineering major from Gulfport, vice president; Haley Sims of Ridgeland and Tara Shumate of Clinton, both junior civil engineering majors, secretary and treasurer, respectively.

For more information about Engineers Without Borders-USA, visit http://www./ (link for soundbites) (link for photos)