Guest blog writer: Laura Windmuller, former president of EWB-BU (2012-2013)
If you’re not already involved with Engineers Without Borders, you should be. People may offer a lot of different and valid reasons why, but I’m going to give you a few of my own.
You will meet new people. For freshmen or transfer students, it’s the cheesy “get involved and make friends”. Like other groups, you will get to meet people outside the sphere of your normal interactions in the dorms or classrooms. Particularly for engineers, the chance to meet upperclassmen can be extremely helpful when navigating the perils of a rigorous undergrad course load. However, EWB doesn’t just limit you to people on campus. You get to work with people even further outside your sphere. You can email with community health workers about our partnering community’s health burden. You can hear from world-renowned speakers like Jeffery Sachs at the Millennium Campus Conference. You can network with engineering professionals who oversee our projects. Pushing yourself outside of the normal collegiate routines and experiences by joining EWB will offer an incredible opportunity to make new friends that have a hugely diverse perspective.
You get hands-on and practical experience in both engineering and non-engineering matters. Since our group is student-led, we handle everything from fundraising to project management to travel logistics. This means, you don’t get locked into either the technical or administrative unless you want to. We offer options. What makes our group unique from others is the high-stakes client-facing nature of our work. We are not cutting checks to foundations or completing projects at the directive of a professor. These are meaningful projects that are directed by the needs of a “client” (i.e. our partnering community). In these circumstances, you will grapple with ambiguity and unknowns since it’s no longer a professor creating a problem statement or stating design requirements that guide your work. You have to ask the right questions and make the correct assumptions in order to succeed. I can tell you that you won’t experience this type of scenario until your senior year at most universities. When I say “high-stakes”, I mean that the results of your work affect more than your GPA; it will affect the daily lives of citizens thousands of miles away. We make promises to our partners and we have to deliver on them. Your participation and work affects our ability to do so. This is about much more than just a grade. It’s about our credibility, our partnering community’s health, and our supporters’ trust. Everything from the airline tickets to the first aid prep to the technology testing contributes to our success, and all of this work is done by people like you.
It is the perfect topic for interviews. I can’t guarantee you will get a job or into graduate school just by joining EWB, but I can say that it has helped a significant number of alumni during interviews. EWB act as a perfect and unique case study for showing off your experience, skill set, and personal interests. While some people may be in a sport or cultural group, you get to discuss how you raised $2000 at a silent auction or designed a Yagi antenna for a public health initiative. For a select few, you may even get to discuss your personal visit to a partnering community and the various challenges you faced there. However you participated in EWB, you can easily impress any interviewer by discussing our work and your unique contribution to it. Now, some people may be upset that I raised this point since it doesn’t necessarily reflect the core values of our group. However, I don’t think anybody remains a part of EWB as a resume builder. It’s not a strong enough motive to have people put in the time and effort we require. I think it’s only fair that those who commit to our work feel free to discuss all the wonderful skills and experiences they have gotten from it—guilt free!
During my time with EWB, I have found dozens of reasons to care about this group. If you’re hesitant to join, please don’t be. There is so much you can do as part of our team. Don’t miss out because you never tried.