Santa Clara University

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Promoting Justice and Sustainability Through Immersion

When his students turned to civil engineering assistant professor Edwin Maurer to help them arrange a visit to Nicaragua to research their senior design project on sustainable water systems for rural communities, Maurer contacted the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education to set up an immersion trip. SCU’s Ignatian Center’s purpose is to assist faculty, staff and students in promoting justice, humanity, and sustainability throughout the world.  “Our students have a history of traveling to Central America to take on engineering challenges,” said Maurer, “but those trips have been ad hoc. The School of Engineering has wanted to give the students a different experience by wrapping the Jesuit message around their coursework activities, so this provided the perfect opportunity.”

Maurer applied for and received grant funding that allowed five engineering students and two professors to travel to Nicaragua during spring break. They met with staff from the Ignatian Center three times before embarking on their trip. “This provided formal preparation for the overseas experience,” says Maurer. “It helped the students anticipate the cultural differences and the experience of being surrounded by a level of poverty they were probably not used to. It also provided a forum for expressing pre-trip anxieties and fears. Once we were back, we met again to reflect on the trip.”

“Our students have a real desire to learn how to use their engineering skills to benefit humanity—especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Being in the community, meeting the people and seeing first-hand how challenges need to be addressed is an invaluable complement to their classroom experience.”

Maurer would love to see engineering students spending one or two summer months fully immersed in Nicaragua—going to school and working with the community to get their project to work. He plans to work on developing a program during his next academic leave. “This trip was exploratory,” Maurer said. “We are just beginning to learn what might be an appropriate model for engineering immersion, but the possibilities are very exciting.”

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