James Madison University

Engineering Students Study Abroad in Kenya

Engineering Students Study Abroad in Kenya

During Summer 2011, 34 students from throughout the United States participated in the JMU Kenya Field School study abroad program, led by program director Dr. Jennifer Coffman (ISAT), Dr. Wayne Teel (ISAT), and Dr. Keith Holland (Engineering).  This year was the first time that an Engineering component was included in the Kenya Field School Program.  Five engineering students, including three from the JMU Department of Engineering (Leah Haling ’12, Emilio Jimenez ’13, and Gail Moruza ’13), participated in the program.

The engineering students completed the ISAT 410 – Sustainable Energy Development course, wherein solar energy resource analysis, technologies, and deployment strategies were discussed in relation the Kenya and the United States. “In our engineering class, we learned about solar energy engineering.  This was interesting to me because it is a rapidly growing industry,” Emilio Jimenez said of the ISAT 410 course.

Engineering Students Study Abroad in Kenya

Travel throughout Kenya promoted interactive learning and experience with the material covered in the coursework.  Dimensions of rural life in Kenya and the human-environment interaction were experienced first-hand during participatory ethnographic field studies (home stays), in the Kakamega and Kajiado districts.  During the rural home stays, students actively participated as members of the community, performing daily chores including gathering water, tending livestock, and visiting the local markets.

“I was surprised at how I got used to not using electricity or have running water. I thought it was amazing how people can live so happily and fully with such little material items,” said Leah Haling of the home stay experiences.

Throughout the six-week program, all students learned basic or advanced Swahili, taught by Kenyan instructor Judy Kiprop.  Further, all students participated in the core program course which introduced the history and culture of Kenya, the varied geography and ecology of the country, and the sustainability issues facing the country.

The urban areas of Nairobi and Mombasa were experienced at the Syracuse Wildlife House and Research CenterKenyatta University Main Campus, and North Coast Beach Hotel. The biodiversity of the region was experienced during visits to Lake Nakuru National Park, Kakamega Rainforest, Elsamere Conservation Centre, Hell’s Gate National Park, Amboseli National Park, and Haller Park.  Students learned about participatory development through sand dam construction work with the Utooni Development Organization and interactions with and a visit to Carolina for Kibera.

Following the six-week program, several students elected to extend their Kenya experience by participating in the 4-week Kenya Field School Internship program.  Three engineers worked on internship projects during the 2011 program.  Gail Moruza and Stephanie Marble (Cornell, Civil Engineering ’13) performed water salinity analysis studies around sand dams in partnership with the Utooni Development Organization.  Andrew Clayburn (Washington University in St. Louis, Mechanical Engineering ’13) participated in the design and construction of a sustainable Masai home and rainwater water collection system for a primary school in Kiserian.

Engineering Students Study Abroad in Kenya

Through this study abroad program, students experienced first-hand the roles that cultural understanding, participatory development, and appropriate technologies play in the design and implementation of systems intended to improve the sustainability of a society. 

“Nothing – no book, no movie, no National Geographic special – can replace the experience of studying abroad in a country like Kenya.  The Kenya Field School will make me a better engineer because it has given me a different perspective on the world as a whole.”– Gail Moruza.

For additional information about the JMU Kenya Field School program and the engineering component, please contact Dr. Jennifer Coffman (coffmaje@jmu.edu) or Dr. Keith Holland (hollansk@jmu.edu).

View additional photos from the JMU 2011 Kenya Field School program at  Zenfolio.com.