Residents of the Guatemalan village of Chumisa will now have reliable, year-round access to education, health care, and economic development – thanks to a bridge-building project led by MSOE students.

Under the mentorship of Milwaukee-area Professional Engineers – and in cooperation with Guatemalan community partners– the MSOE chapter of Engineers Without Borders designed and built a 42-foot span reinforced concrete vehicular bridge that connects Chumisa to the nearby municipality of Joyabaj. Without this bridge the route was impassible during the six-month rainy season. The bridge design meets all the relevant US and Guatemalan standards.

The Chumisa bridge was designated a Premier Project at the EWB-USA International Summit in March, an honor reserved for projects that deliver high quality, sustainable solutions to help meet the basic needs of partnering communities abroad. EWB-USA’s chapters are working on projects in 45 countries on five continents.

Students raised their own money for travel and were aided by a grant from the Office of Servant-Leadership. The cost of the project itself is shared among the participating groups: The municipality provided cement and other materials and equipment worth over $15,000, the community of Chumisa provided wood and labor worth over $17,000, and EWB-MSOE’s donors provided approximately $28,000 to complete the funding. “Like all of our projects, this was conceived, planned, and implemented with local partners,” said Dr. Doug Stahl, co-advisor of the EWB-MSOE group.

Construction began in February, when an MSOE team worked with the community to excavate for the footings, construct the footings, and construct the abutment walls. The EWB-Wisconsin Professional Partners travel team then worked with the community to construct wooden formwork and concrete beams. Finally, a second MSOE team arrived about three weeks later to lead the community during construction of the deck and railing, as well as the wing walls. Professional mentors provided guidance for the students, reviewing drawings and calculations regularly during the design phase that started in June 2015.

The community of Chumisa provided manpower on a daily basis. “There is great focus on partnership and the vital importance on working with community members, side by side in construction and communication during design to ensure their needs are met,” said Project Manager Riley Padron, senior civil engineering major. “We do not simply work to give them a bridge and then leave; we work to provide them with means and opportunity to build the bridge with us and take full ownership after we leave.”

2016_news_EWB2When students traveled to Chumisa over spring break, village residents were ready to work. “There were a couple of days when we had more than 60 people show up to help,” said senior Logan Bertling, civil engineering major. “[We] had to start coming up with more tasks to keep everyone busy and involved – which is a wonderful problem to have and helped us get ahead of schedule.”

The experience was a great opportunity for students to apply the theory they learned in class. “I was able to use everything I had learned up to that point to perform the structural calculations for the superstructure of the bridge. I gained a ton of valuable construction experience and learned a lot about carpentry since I was a part of the formwork crew.”

The Chumisa Bridge, which is expected to open end of May, is MSOE’s seventh project in Joyabaj since 2008.

In June 2015, EWB-MSOE designed and constructed the El Salitre pedestrian bridge that spanned 230 feet across the Rio Arco. The trip for the El Salitre project lasted two weeks. Padron has had the opportunity to participate in multiple projects and trips with EWB-MSOE. “These trips provide a new perspective on the impact of engineering projects. Our partnership with these communities has allowed us to help improve their lives and their communities as a whole. That experience stays with you and helps motivate students to perform to the best of their abilities.”