College of Engineering and Computing Builds Bridges in Africa

Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science is a leader in building bridges, literally and figuratively.

Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science is a leader in building bridges, literally and figuratively. Through a collaboration with Engineers in Action (EIA) that began in 2020 with the organization’s Bridge program, FAU has become one of the few schools bridging the gap between its civil engineering students and other countries. to provide gateways to previously isolated rural communities. shopping centers.

More recently, seven Civil Engineering students and College alumni, including two former Bridge Team Captains, traveled to Mkhulamini, Eswatini in Africa to construct a footbridge that will allow the community of Mkhulamini to access the rest of the Manzini region. The bridge projects were also carried out as part of the College’s senior design class.

The Emlaleni Mabovini walkway will facilitate the movement of more than 3,700 people, connecting them to schools, health care clinics, grocery stores and churches, as well as farmlands and residential properties. It will also allow a community that is 70% dependent on subsistence farming to move around to sell or trade their produce, such as corn, spinach and various livestock, which will significantly boost their local economy.

EIA’s mission is to support the development of sustainable systems and infrastructure with underserved communities, local expertise and global partners. The organization offers students from more than 40 universities around the world the opportunity to participate in projects that not only connect underserved communities to essential services, but also provide students with essential practical experience and the development of leadership skills.

Frederick Bloetscher, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and Community Outreach in the FAU Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatics Engineering within the College, oversaw the upper cornerstone design class.

“A former student contacted us about this EIA opportunity [and] it seemed to fit well with what we are trying to accomplish in the classroom. The ability to travel adds to the experience by allowing students to see their design become a real project,” he said. “We’re relatively new to this, but we’ve built more bridges than some of these big schools. Our plan is to continue building bridges as long as we have interested students and a community ready to help us raise the funds needed to leave.

The FAU is currently one of 24 schools in the United States, including Duke, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Penn State, Virginia Tech and McGill University, to design and build bridges. Students cannot go to any of the sites beforehand, and some situations may be different on the ground from what is expected, posing challenges but also learning to adapt to things that are out of control.

“Adaptability is important. For example, design changes were necessary this year because the floors were not as indicated by the people on site,” Bloetscher said. “This required changing the location of the pylons and the length of the bridge during construction. Lack of electricity, Wi-Fi and running water added to the challenge.

Emmanuel François, a senior civil engineering graduate and team leader since June 2022, led the Eswatini project as manager, overseeing the team building and design phase through to the implementation phase, which took place over a three-week period in March in the African country.

“This project was never an option not to happen,” François said, considering the challenges he faced with his comrades. But those challenges, he said, brought him to the most rewarding part, which is seeing how the whole community benefits from this bridge they’ve built together.

Alex Hintze and Carolina Velez are alumni who have participated in the Bridge program since the beginning. Hintze, who graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, found the “attitude of gratitude and joy” he felt from the local community was both humbling and invigorating. Getting into the trenches and implementing a project – as opposed to just designing and planning it – proved fruitful for Hintze, as he accepted a full-time position with EIA’s Action Bridge program in Eswatini at the ‘autumn.

Velez, who graduated from FAU in December with a master’s degree in civil engineering and is now a design engineer for Structures International, participated in the project during the 2019-2020 year. Due to COVID, the team was unable to travel – but Velez was able to oversee bridging efforts from South Florida. Fast forward to this year, when she finally made the trip overseas to help build the bridge originally designed by her team.

The team also lived with members of the local community in Mkhulamini for several weeks, so an in-depth cultural exchange between the students and the Eswatini people had an impact. They soon learned that the food and living conditions were not like home, with jungle safety and construction safety and techniques being part of their daily routine, as was the toolless work that one commonly found in the United States. All of this helped the students appreciate the opportunities at home. .

“We had to walk around the river to find rocks, which coming from a place where everything is readily available was an experience,” she said, noting that one day she even fell by chance. on a wild bull elephant. “It was very cool.”

For more information on the EIA Bridge program, go here.



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