Aztec engineers put skills to work

by Thane Hale, Staff Writer

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San Diego State’s chapter of the non-profit organization Engineers Without Borders works to improve quality of life in developing communities. They have designed and implemented projects like helping to engineer a water treatment facility in Tijuana.

Recently, however, the chapter faced a challenge when many members left.  The new members like electrical engineering junior and Chapter President Sam Bustillos, are working to fix it that problem. 

“It went from one of the premier Engineers Without Borders chapters in the area, to having two members,” Bustillos said.

Members left due to a combination of issues. The last two projects, one in Panama and the one in Honduras, were shut down because of travel risk warnings.

The U.S. State Department issued the warnings, and the California State University system had to ban all students from traveling to the two countries. As a result, students lost interest. At the same time, many of the chapter’s most active members graduated.

When Bustillos came in, EWB started bringing in new members.

“We went from having nobody to having a ton of members,” Bustillos said. “We have 16 officers, coming from having two. It’s been a crazy process.”

The officers also want to make the chapter more active. Electrical engineering freshman and Chapter Vice President of External Affairs Ethan Palm has worked on new proposed projects.

“This year, our two main focuses in terms of long-term projects are Mesa Grande Indian Reservation and our international project in Nicaragua,” Palm said.

Palm said the members have to secure the projects with applications to the national EWB organization. They have already submitted the application for the Nicaragua project.

The chapter works with GRID Alternatives, a non-profit organization that installs solar panels for people in low-income housing. Chapter members volunteer to install solar panels. Palm was involved in installing panels on four different houses last year.

“It was really neat because you get to go to houses and see the power meters shut off to zero,” Palm said. “You’re actually selling energy back to the grid and making money for these people who are struggling. You get to eat lunch with these families. It was a great experience working with the community.”

Palm joined because he believes in the mission of EWB.

“I really liked the idea of using our knowledge and resources to help other communities and the world community as a whole,” Palm said. “Also, it’s a great way to build relationships with your peers, your professors and other organizations on campus, other majors on campus. We were really involved with homecoming last semester.”

It’s one of the best engineering clubs on campus because there are so many different aspects to it, Palm said. There’s the volunteer side, the really intensive project side and the social events every month.

Though Bustillos joined for the opportunities to travel and help people, he has gotten much more out of being involved in EWB.

“Every time you open a door, three more doors open,” Bustillos said. “It’s just been about seeing this organization blossom from nothing to be doing all the stuff that we’re doing, having all the people we have and just seeing how excited everyone is. There’s the social aspect, but it’s mostly about doing these projects and seeing that you can make a real change.”

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