James Madison University

(Madison) Engineers Without Borders

By: Daniel Vieth
Posted: June 30, 2014

LOGO: EWBSince the JMU Department of Engineering has redefined what it takes to be a “Madison Engineer,” the program has emphasized the goal of fostering individuals who not only design and build, but actively strive to make a difference. For some engineering students making a difference goes far beyond the classroom. These are the students who want to use their knowledge to help others both at home and abroad in a way that truly makes a global impact. With this mission statement in mind, the Department of Engineering is pleased to announce their new chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-USA), an international non-profit organization established to create community-based development programs around the globe.

Engineers Without Borders is an organization that provides engineering services to partners in developing nations around the world. As they put it on their website, EWB-USA fosters change “one well at a time, one bridge at a time, one community at a time.” With more than 13,800 members worldwide participating in the hundreds of professional and student chapters, EWB-USA partners with communities to solve specific problems in a collaborative way. “It’s not like you show up with materials to build a school or a ton of money and say ‘here it is, see you later’,” explained engineering student and president of JMU’s EWB chapter Lauren Distler. “It’s more like you go, you scope out the community, you see what their needs are and then you teach them to build their own sustainable communities.”

The process of beginning the JMU EWB chapter began last August with Distler first spoke with the Engineering Department Head and now EWB adviser Dr. Kurt Paterson on the first day of the fall semester. From there, Distler contacted other engineers to create an executive board who held experience and passion with community outreach, languages and other skills. “They were really interested in getting the club started, so they were our base 10 people on the application who helped us get the club started,” said JMU EWB’s vice president Lauren Phillips. After six months of building the support and writing the application, the JMU chapter was finally accepted in February. “It was fantastic, we felt like all the hard work we put in the past six months was validated,” Phillips continued.

Now the chapter has an executive board of over 10 members and around 30 students interested in becoming full members once the organization begins having general meetings. Despite EWB falling within the Engineering Department, Distler and Phillips stressed the fact that other majors are not only welcomed but needed. “This club is not just for engineers; we need education majors, we need health sciences, we need business, people who speak the native languages, people of all aspects,” said Distler. “A multidisciplinary effort will be the most successful effort.” While the chapter may not be flying overseas quite yet, they do plan on partnering with a professional chapter to get the ball rolling soon. “We went to the DC professional chapter in January and sat in on one of their meetings,” explained Phillips. “They partner with other universities, so that is one of the options we can do and hop on a project that way.”

“We didn’t really have anything like this in terms of organizations in in the engineering department, and it really aligns well with the Madison Engineering mission,” said Distler. “It kind of provides a broader representation of engineering.” By giving students the opportunity to work with different cultures and build both sustainable projects and relationships, Engineers Without Borders shows the diverse side of the engineer while providing meaningful contributions to the world. “I feel like [the department] trains engineers that want to go out in the world and help people and something for the good, and this will be a fantastic way for them to show this,” said Phillips. “We’ll be doing some good!”

For more information about how to get involved with Engineering Without Borders, please visit their website at JMUEWB.wordpress.com or contact JMUEWB@Gmail.com. All are welcome to join!