A group of Virginia Tech students is seeking support through the university’s crowdfunding platform for various humanitarian service projects in developing countries that are part of their senior design coursework.

The humanitarian service design program brings mechanical engineering design students to communities in developing countries. During this undergraduate research opportunity, student teams work with community members to develop sustainable engineering solutions to problems that range from water and sanitation to health care and transportation.

According to Kevin Kochersberger, associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering and faculty advisor to the humanitarian projects teams, the students involved in the projects are making an enormous difference to the lives of people all over the world.

“We have had 16 projects in four countries,” Kochersberger said. “This year we’ll travel to three of those – Peru, Rwanda, and Malawi.”

The work ranges from building agricultural-based devices, such as a grass chopper that helps farmers in Senegal make silage feed for livestock, to a project that created a strong, light, and portable table to help doctors providing cervical cancer screenings to women in remote villages of the Peruvian Andes.

While building a table may seem simple, the results of the project are long-lasting and go beyond the results of the screening. For CerviCusco, a Peruvian nongovernmental agency trying to provide health screenings to women in rural communities, a table can be the difference between efficient, dignified exams, and exams where doctors are using their shoulders to support cervical cancer screenings.

“We traveled with a team of doctors to two very remote clinics in Peru; one had no proper exam table while the other could double patient screening with the addition of our table,” Kochersberger said. “It is not uncommon for doctors working with CerviCusco, the group doing the screenings, to hike several hours to a village, making the lightweight, backpackable table indispensable in remote medicine.”

The crowdfunding campaign for the senior design humanitarian projects team hopes to raise $10,000 for travel expenses to the three countries. The campaign, supported by the Virginia Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Office of International Research, Education, and Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs, runs through the month of November. Supporters can contribute a gift of any amount and are encouraged to help promote the campaign on social media by visiting the project’s homepage.

Written by Rosaire Bushey

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