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Engineering Students Travel to Belize

August 22, 2013

Mount Union’s International Engineering Field Experience – Belize 2013

Students in Dr. Helen Muga’s International Engineering Field Experience course traveled to Belize in May to work with two high schools on projects utilizing various skills they have learned in the classroom.

Civil Engineering majors and Mechanical Engineering majors at the University of Mount Union are required to participate in an international field experience before they graduate. With the inaugural engineering class quickly approaching graduation, this was the first of many trips to be planned by the engineering department.

Students were in Belize for 10 days working with Edward P. York High School and Wesley College. One project focused on building a storm water control system. According to Muga, assistant professor of civil engineering, high school students came up with the project idea but needed the assistance of the engineering students for design and labor purposes.

“Our group had the opportunity to interact and plan with students who valued their education. With hard work and determination, much progress was made during our stay, producing great appreciation from the students,” said senior Art and Mechanical Engineering major Kristen Gromes of Navarre, OH.

Due to the country's flat landscape, Belize has many pockets of standing water. At Edward P. York, students surveyed the land, dug trenches and finished the retention pond where the water will now collect. The second part of the project was a hydroponic system. This will be an ecological park that will drain the water and create a science area for the high school students. There is still more work to be completed with this project, but Muga hopes that next year’s class will be back to finish it.

“It’s nice to have some continuity with the site to see the projects come to life and take responsibility for it,” said Muga.

The second project was for Wesley College, a high school located very close to the ocean. The students worked on a man-made sea wall to go around the school to protect it from potentially large waves that could wash up during hurricane season.

After working hard for seven straight days, the students had the opportunity to explore and experience Belize through various recreational activities. The group traveled to the Mayan ruins and the island of Cayecaulker where they spent the day out on the open water sailing and snorkeling.

“Students enjoyed the trip immensely. It was truly a cultural experience for them, from the food to the environment to seeing first-hand what I teach them in class about problems in developing countries,” said Dr. Muga.

The primary purpose of the course is to expose students to engineering in a global environment with a major focus in a developing country. Not only are students learning the technical part, but also the social, cultural and political aspects that factor into a project’s completion.

“We were provided with amazing Belizean food to eat and memorable places to see; but most importantly, we were given an opportunity to share our knowledge with others to help improve their lifestyle. The impact left on us by this developing country was no doubt far more influential than the impact we left on it, as we found reason to appreciate all that we have normally taken for granted – clean water, clean streets and comfortable living. For this realization alone, the trip to Belize was successful,” Gromes said.

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