EMU engineering majors Mana Acosta (pictured) and Luke Wheeler spent six weeks in Bolivia as part of an Engineers in Action team helping to build a bridge in an isolated community. (Courtesy photos)

EMU Engineers in Action joins bridge projects in West Virginia, Bolivia

Ethan Spicher in West Virginia with members of the Engineers in Action team.

Seven Eastern Mennonite University engineering students put their brains and muscles to work this summer with Engineers in Action, contributing to bridge building projects that increased access and safety for rural communities in West Virginia and Bolivia.

Luke Wheeler and Mana Acosta in Jatun Pampa, Bolivia.

Ethan Spicher participated in an EIA project in West Virginia as part of a summer internship with JZ Engineering, a structural engineering company based in Harrisonburg. He spent two weeks with students from Duke University and Georgia Tech working on a 16-foot vehicular bridge.

Students Mana Acosta and Luke Wheeler were also on site in Jatun Pampa, Bolivia, for six weeks working with Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Delaware students on a 113-meter-long span serving 300 rural residents. Several other students, including Laura Benner, See Hla, Caleb Oesch, and Ben Bontrager-Singer, comprised EMU’s Bridge Team and contributed to the year-long planning process and fundraising. 

Engineers in Action is a nonprofit organization with a mission to “support development of sustainable systems and infrastructure with underserved communities, local expertise, and global partners.” 

EMU’s students work with EIA staff and peers on the projects. Teams are located at more than 35 universities across the country and the world. EIA has built more than 100 footbridges in 12 countries, helping connect “nearly 150,000 previously isolated people to essential resources.”

“Such collaborative projects are unique opportunities to apply principles of engineering and science learned in the classroom, with strong components of teamwork, project management, communication skills, and intercultural competence,” said Professor Esther Tian, director of EMU’s engineering program. 

“The Engineers in Action organization meshes perfectly with our goals to graduate engineers with a global mindset who want to serve with their skills and be leaders for positive change,” she said. “Students on our Bridge Team are engaging actively with our commitments to sustainability, peacebuilding and social justice. It’s a win for everyone.”  

READ MORE: EMU Engineering is globally accredited.

Acosta affirms that as well: “I learned how to apply engineering and design principles to a very real-life project. I also learned how to live with a team full-time and manage team dynamics. But probably the most meaningful part of the experience was learning to live in a community so different from my community back home. Jatun Pampa grew to have a special place in my heart.”

The bridge building team in Peru with local residents, engineers, and students from EMU, Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Delaware.
The West Virginia bridge building team of Engineers in Action represented several universities, including EMU and Duke.

For someone who just a year ago was having difficulty imagining herself as an engineer in the field, Acosta’s time in Bolivia helped her see a future in her chosen field after graduation. 

Spicher said his internship exposed him to “everything from AutoCAD to stress and strain calculations on bridges and other structures … [it was] an opportunity that opened my eyes to the world of structural engineering and provided me with lots of real, valuable, and applicable experience.”

He enjoyed spending time with and learning from his co-workers at the firm, their clients, and the build team in West Virginia.

While Spicher is not sure yet of his specific path, like Acosta, he’s excited by the possibilities and the prospects. 

The Bridge Team is currently studying bridge design and preparing to help build a bridge in West Virginia next summer.