Alumni Pitch In with the Peace Corps
On October 14, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy made a stop on his campaign trail to speak at the University of Michigan. He challenged students to serve their country in the cause of peace and, in just a few sentences, lay the foundation for what would become the Peace Corps. Over the years, U-M students and alumni have constituted a good percentage of those who've lived and worked in developing countries to promote world peace and friendship. Here's a small sampling those selfless alums.
Daniel Wright (BSE CEE '05, MSE CEE '05)
From 2006 to 2008 I worked as a regional sanitation engineer in the Peace Corps in Bolivia. I focused on designing and supervising the construction of rural water drinking water systems. I also helped create rural water committees and organized training courses to teach the basics of water-system operation and maintenance, plumbing, accounting, bookkeeping and basic water disinfection. I helped drill a well at the Escuela Agricola Muyurina (Mayurina agricultural school) outside of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The well, fitted with a hand-powered pump, will be for demonstration purposes and small scale irrigation. From 2008-2009 I've worked with JMS Ingenieros Consultores, a small civil engineering company in Concepcion, Chile, that works on micro- and small-scale hydroelectric projects.
It's hard to sum up that sort of experience in a few words, but one thing I've gained an appreciation for are the very complex and difficult problems that countries and individuals everywhere face. You need to find some sort of peace within that complexity, and I think the best way is to help out in whatever way you can.
People like me have a responsibility to provide what's needed for others to have the same opportunities that I've had. My work in the Peace Corps was a way of providing the basic sanitation and water needs so that people could devote more time and energy to things such as education.
I was a member of Michigan Engineering's Engineers Without Borders until we broke off and changed our name to Better Living Using Engineering Laboratory (BLUELab). I worked evaluating several different water-purification techniques for use in a small town in the Dominican Republic and I co-chaired the Project Identification committee. I also organized a lecture series in the fall of 2005 on sustainable and responsible engineering.
In the fall I'll begin a PhD in Water Resources and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University, where I hope to focus on urban hydrology and air-quality issues. I'll also renew my activity in Engineers Without Borders and try to apply my recent international experience to assist on their projects.
Venu Ghanta (BSE ChE '96)
My view of public service is that we should try to help people so that they have the opportunity to reach their potential. There are so many people out there who, through no fault of their own, have had so many fewer opportunities than I have. I chose the Peace Corps not only because it enabled me to contribute my skills to help others, but also because I wanted to learn more about the developing world. Along the way, I learned a lot about life and met so many inspiring people who've given me more than I could ever give them. It's helped me to understand much better what's really important in life, and it's motivated me to continue to give back.
I'm currently working in the Transportation and Air Quality office at the Environmental Protection Agency. I compile the national transportation greenhouse gas inventory and I assist the EPA labs in Ann Arbor in their work establishing fuel and vehicle standards that reduce air pollution. It's been a nice way to continue in public service while also being a good steward for the planet.
Having that Michigan Engineering degree has given me an abundance of interesting career opportunities.
Michael Krautmann (BSE IOE '08, MSE '09)
I'm a firm believer that we must work not only towards our own improvement and happiness, but also to improve the well-being of the people around us. Public service is a challenging and rewarding way to do that for the people who need it most. And Peace Corps service is one of the most fundamental, hands-on, grassroots forms of international development experience. I hope not only to make a positive impact on a third-world community but also to build upon the resourcefulness, cross-cultural communication and project-management skills I learned as a Michigan Engineer.
Unfortunately I wasn't a part of the Costa Rica Volunteer Abroad trip that the Engineering Global Leadership Honors Program took in 2008. However, I did participate in the 2007 version, which traveled to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. While we were on the Galapagos, we worked for a couple of weeks with an ongoing local project to rid the island of invasive plant species that are harming the fragile local ecosystems. We all got to be pretty handy with a machete and managed to restore an area the size of multiple football fields to its original state.
I traveled to Guatemala with a small student group called Health in Action, which offers one of the finest examples of long-term, sustainable international development at U-M. We worked tremendously hard for five months in preparation for that trip, yet we were there for only eight days. Through a local nonprofit we came in contact with Samox San Lucas, a community in need of clean water. So we spent several hours a week for five months researching, designing and testing different water-purification systems. We also figured out how to construct these systems using only locally available materials. Once in Samox San Lucas, we transitioned ownership of the project to the community leaders, teaching them how to procure and construct the "biosand filters" we had developed. The project was a smashing success, with villagers turning out in hordes to learn about and build the filters. In fact, they've already identified a project -- cleaner-burning stoves -- that they'd like us to help with next spring.
Jeff Sanchez (BSE AERO '90, MSE '91)
I served with the Peace Corps in Paraguay from 1998 to 2000 as a water resources and sanitation volunteer. My primary task was managing a community-wide running-water project. Having done a lot volunteer work throughout college, I always enjoyed trying to help others and make a difference. I saw the Peace Corps as a way to do that and to learn about another culture, while still advancing my professional development in engineering. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of making a difference in the lives of so many families. I made a lot of lasting friendships and truly fell in love with the country and its people.
My studies at the College of Engineering included a series in environmental engineering. It was a difficult program, but I had great support -- professors Susan Montgomery and Scott Fogler more especially. I'm grateful that Professor Montgomery encouraged me to pursue serving in the Peace Corps.
Hilary Witbrodt (BSE ChE '03, BSE MSE '03)
Volunteering is wonderful because it benefits both parties – the receiver gets much-needed assistance and the knowledge that someone cares, and the volunteer gains perspective and the satisfaction of having helped someone. The Peace Corps gave me a great opportunity to do that. I served in Tanzania from 2004 to 2006 as a math and physics teacher. I integrated with a community and worked on projects that the people themselves valued the most -- not what an outsider thought was important. Like all volunteers in Africa, I also worked to educate my students on HIV/AIDS.
I ended up in Moa because the Peace Corps sends volunteers where their skills are needed the most. There's another important element in going to these countries – cultural exchange. Serving with the Peace Corps in a developing country gives you the chance to be a cultural ambassador abroad and at home. The Corps also has excellent training for language, culture and job skills, which helps ease the transition for the volunteers and makes it one of the best organizations for international service in the world. There are so many needs in the world, but I knew that by being part of the Peace Corps I could make a difference somewhere.
Douglas Urquhart (BSE ChE '03, MSE EnvEng '04)
I'm interested in using engineering as a tool for international development, especially for clean drinking water and sustainable water resources. Doing work of that kind for the Peace Corps allows you to develop many of the critical skills to work in the field of international development -- skills such as language, cultural understanding, resourcefulness and patience. People benefit not only from international aid but also from the exchange of ideas and concepts, such as engineering ethics, fair business practices and democracy.
After a year with a Swiss engineering firm on a water infrastructure project in Macedonia, I returned to the states and married another volunteer I met there. I currently work for Ash Creek Associates based in Portland, Oregon, doing environmental remediation and monitoring. I'm also involved with Engineers Without Borders.
Vinay D'Souza (BSE ME '01, MSE '91)
There are a lot of people in the world who don't have the barest necessities of life...things we simply take for granted. I wanted to get some understanding of what they go through. I also want to leave this world a better place than I found it. I think the Peace Corps allows me to do this in some small way. Public service I see as an essential part of life. Most of us can't dedicate our whole lives to this, but joining the Peace Corps is a great way to dedicate at least two years to helping others.