Northern Illinois University senior Mechanical Engineering student Taylor Dupré used his involvement in student organizations to extend his learning to outside of the classroom and even outside the country. As a result of joining NIU’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) his freshman year, he became interested in EWB’s international partnerships, giving him an advantage as he enters the professional world.
As part of a month and a half long, faculty-directed independent study abroad trip to Mexico, Dupré worked as an intern for International Centers for Appropriate Technology and Indigenous Sustainability (iCATIS). During the second half of the trip, he went to a field school.
“It was basically on the ground floor, [EWB] just presented it like ‘hey we have this big opportunity, don’t really know where it’s going,’ and I was hooked right there,” Dupré said. “At the time, they were looking into solar installation in Tanzania. I went to a general meeting, and they were discussing all that stuff and looking to form a partnership and create a research initiative at NIU with the company iCATIS.”
As part of the trip, he traveled to Mexico City, Pueblo, and San Miguel, where he worked on ceramic filtration systems, water testing and rural- and urban-appropriate technology development.
“I really felt like there were a lot of resources and driven people that were really looking to make a difference. There was actual experience, and I was able to be a part of real world change that you could see the effects of,” Dupré said of the soft skills he learned. “I think that’s one of the things that makes EWB really unique; this is something that the work that we do directly impacts the people we do it for in a big way— it’s their lives and the way that they live and the way that their communities work together.”
“Engineering is a global profession, and mobility of engineers across the globe is becoming the norm rather than an outlier,” said Promod Vohra, dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. “Programs such as Engineers Without Borders provide international experience for NIU-CEET students that give them a competitive edge in order for them to excel in a global environment.”
Engineers Without Borders is a non-profit humanitarian organization established to partner with developing communities worldwide in order to improve their quality of life. Dupré, who served as EWB secretary during the 2012-13 academic year, said he learned many different hard engineering skills that will help his professional career as a direct result of the experience.
“I learned a lot about how to walk onto a site in rural settings and really look to develop those systems. Looking at what they have and what they need and kind of molding those systems with their resources,” he explained. “I had to think about how do I take all these resources and accomplish the goals I have set without really any major guidance, so professionally that was really awesome. And I got to travel on my own, which was a new experience.”
Programs such as this are becoming increasingly common at NIU and connect students and faculty to the wider world. The experiences in Mexico City had a particularly profound effect on Dupré.
“At the school, there were 30 of us from 27 different countries. We were all living in one hostel together, which was a completely new environment. [I met] engineers from other countries and completely different education systems, different walks of life, and different cultures. Seeing the different challenges they’ve encountered in their academic and professional careers was interesting,” Dupré said. “The World Cup was going on at the time, so that was really cool ‘cause no matter who was playing, there were always people fiercely into it.”
Engineers Without Borders requires the efforts of many people in various disciplines, traveling to Mexico every May. This past summer, Dupré joined 18 other students and faculty from NIU’s Engineering, Geology, Biology and Business departments on a return trip.
“This is helpful in making our students understand not only internal issues in engineering, but also in working across disciplines with students from different fields while providing a global perspective,” added Vohra.
EWB has an open working relationship with iCATIS, and the organization plans to return to Mexico in May, 2015, to help a San Miguel boys home where structural, electrical, and water improvements are needed.
“They have a lot of needs, and we have a lot of resources, so we just need to prioritize them and make a long-term working relationship with them as well,” Dupré added.