On the 4th of May 2016, I along with 10 other students from the Humanitarian Engineering Scholars Program at the Ohio State University visited Guatemala to perform a comparative study on solar panels and cooperating with Mayan Families. My main focus was to find an effective method to assemble a solar panel system that could be used by the residents. I was also involved in building cook stoves to the locals as well as implementing STEM projects for elementary and middle school students.
The project was transformative to me because it was a critical learning point in affordable product design. It allowed me to apply my academic knowledge in electricity and energy efficiency in order to find the best solar panel system that is affordable by families and offices. The project also reinforced my Humanitarian Engineering background. As a Biomedical Engineer, my career goal is to make affordable medical equipment available to third world countries. While expensive equipment offers the best results, it is only accessible to people who can afford it. This project has reinforced my understanding of methodologies that may be used to develop inexpensive products. Living in the United States, I often forget and become less appreciative of the assets available to me. Directly witnessing the challenges that the Guatemalan residents face has furthered my appreciation for the privileges I have.
In order to attain a better understanding of the living situations that the Guatemalan families live in, I was given various opportunities to interact with the residents. My first opportunity was interviewing a family about their living conditions in order to understand the problems they face and provide a reasonable solution. This was an important event because it refined my ability to find the root cause for problems, a very useful skill in the engineering field.
After coming up with the recommended product, my team came up with a technical report and we presented our findings as well to Mayan Families. I participated in running STEM projects for elementary and middle school students. For the elementary children, we taught them to concept of force by building catapults made out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands. These events allowed me to develop as an engineer because producing a technical report is commonly seen in the engineering field. I was also able to learn how to communicate ideas to people without necessarily using the English language.
During the day, our Humanitarian Engineering Scholar group embarked to different rural regions to install cook stoves for the residents. The residents typically cook over open fire, which is a health hazard for everyone in the house due to the large amount of smoke released. Witnessing the living conditions that the residents live in has further driven my passion for focusing my career goals in helping struggling countries reach the standards that we enjoy.
I truly enjoyed going on this trip and more so in the work I’ve done. It was a nice break from tackling problems that solely impact my grades. I am content with my own personal growth, but I am fonder of the growth that happened around me. I participated in inspiring children to go on through their education as well as bringing light to the residents. This trip is valuable because it allowed to develop both as an engineer as well as a leader in my community and other’s.