As a sophomore transfer student, Erica Wiener got involved with Engineers Without Borders casually. But an exploratory information session turned into serving as secretary of the Nepal team, then program manager, and before she knew it, she was traveling to Nepal to work on development projects firsthand.
As her international service roles deepened, Wiener embraced the gravity of her work.
“Typically you don’t place the livelihood of people in students’ hands,” she says. “It’s a huge responsibility.”
Despite its emphasis on service to developing communities, international travel is not a requirement nor a guarantee for students serving in EWB. So Wiener was excited when she was selected to travel to Nepal in summer 2015. Then, a severe earthquake rocked the Himalayan country that spring, killing almost 9,000 people and upending the country. The EWB trip was cancelled, but the need for engineering projects remained.
Wiener and her team rescheduled their travels for winter break, but the aftermath of the earthquake was a poignant reminder to be prepared for anything.
“Working with developing communities, you often run into really unexpected situations,” Wiener says. “It’s a really challenging experience, but it’s also a super valuable experience that you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else in your undergraduate career.”
Wiener and the team worked on water quantity and quality projects to improve access and prevent illnesses in the community of Ilam in eastern Nepal. They gained hands-on engineering experience along with best practices for working alongside people from other cultures.
Wiener also participated in CU’s faculty-led Global Seminar “Culture Wars in Rome,” which included classes on the history of Italy and travel to significant historical sites, so her undergraduate career offered a broad range of international experiences.
She encourages students to attend information sessions and learn about opportunities available to undergraduates – and to think about how their lives and careers might benefit.
“Knowing beforehand what kind of experience you want out of it is helpful,” Wiener says.