img_itzin_featureLauren Itzin

Civil Engineering, Class of 2017

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is an international organization that provides its members with opportunities they will never forget. The work they do will leave a lasting positive impact on the communities they assist.

Before MSOE’s student chapter of EWB visited, the school that served the village of Chitom in Joyabaj, Guatemala was barely sufficient to teach the 61 children enrolled. With no means of creating a better learning environment, the community was making do with a small, one-room building. In February 2015 over their week-long break between Winter and Spring quarters, MSOE EWB members were given the unique opportunity to travel to Chitom to begin constructing a brand new school.

EWB goes through an extensive process before any construction can take place. Planning for the school began in April 2014, almost a year prior to the organization’s trip in February. MSOE’s chapter of EWB typically constructs bridges, so members were excited to take on a new challenge. In June, four students and an advisor made an initial trip to Chitom to scope out the land on which the school would be built. Using the observations collected on this trip, 25 students worked for months back in Milwaukee to design the building and other components of the project and make plans for the build.

Because of the amount of work it requires, members of EWB must have a strong commitment to the project in order to see it succeed. Lauren Itzin—a civil engineering student with a structural specialty, a member of EWB for 3 years, and the organization’s president-elect for the 2015-2016 academic year—is the perfect fit. She’s always had a heart for serving others and volunteering, joining the group her freshman year with encouragement from a cross country teammate.

Lauren was one of seven students who were given the opportunity to travel to Chitom and actually begin construction of the school project with the help of a faculty advisor Dr. Todd Davis and a professional mentor. When building finally began, she remembers the children warmly welcoming her and the other workers every morning by shaking their hands before starting school for the day. Their fathers also assisted with the construction. Members of EWB were able to get to know and build relationships with the locals and their children by talking and playing games with them. “As much as we have a place in their hearts, they have a place in our hearts too,” Lauren says of the children she helped serve through this project.

After more than a week of construction, Lauren and the rest of the EWB team witnessed the culmination of a year of research, planning and designing. A portion of the school and a retaining wall was completed by her team. Chitom residents took over construction after EWB left and completed the project in June 2015. The 61 students will then be able to enjoy a school with three classrooms, a kitchen, and a detached bathroom with a waste water system. EWB will revisit this site in the future to see how their work has impacted the community.

MSOE EWB is already beginning to plan for their next trip in February 2016 which will involve the construction of a vehicular bridge high in the mountains. If you are a dedicated and hardworking person and would like an opportunity to serve others overseas, now is a great time to get involved. Feel free to contact Lauren Itzin at itzinl@msoe.edu.

Check out this video from the Rotary Club of Milwaukee about this and other projects from Engineers Without Borders!

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