In their own words: EWB–WWU student engineers (part 3)

Elizabeth Schlinsog shares the joys and challenges of conducting advance work for the EWB–WWU micro hydropower project in Japura, Peru

Elizabeth Schlinsog is a junior mechanical engineering major with an emphasis in global humanitarian engineering. Last school year, she worked with the EWB–WWU local project team to design exhibits for the Walla Walla Children’s Museum. This year she is working with the international project team on the Japura, Peru, electricity project as the logistics coordinator. Her job is to purchase and arrange all of the transportation and hotel stays for travelers and to organize the purchasing and transportation of materials for the implementation trip, which will happen this summer. In her spare time, Elizabeth enjoys pretty much anything outdoors, such as hiking, camping, and kayaking. She plans to graduate in June 2017 and then to one day complete an MBA.

Over spring break I had the opportunity to go to Peru to meet with our EWB project partners. To sum up the entire trip: It was very fun, and I learned a lot. In total, we spent about a week with the community and municipality (the equivalent of our county government) collecting data, arranging funds, and discussing our implementation trip this summer. It was nice to get out of the classroom and apply some of the skills that I have been taught in my engineering and cultural classes here at Walla Walla University.

Perhaps the most interesting and time-consuming thing we did was take measurements on the streams in the community. The GPS we had only provided elevation levels and locations within 10 feet of what they actually were, which was not accurate enough for some of the measurements we needed. As a result we got to use old surveying equipment, tape measures, and a makeshift level from a piece of paper with a string.

To get flow rates on some of the streams, we had to time sticks going down the river, and get depth and length measurements of the cross section we were analyzing. Even though it takes more time, there is a certain element of fun to doing things manually as opposed to using digital equipment. It was neat to learn new techniques and to be able to use the information we learned in labs on an actual project outside of the classroom.

It was also very interesting to see how a different culture operates in comparison with my own. In Peruvian culture, formalities are very important, and whenever anyone talks they acknowledge and thank everyone who they deem as important before proceeding with what they want to say.

When talking to the community, our Peru contact spoke to them in their native language of Quechua and then translated that into Spanish for our student translator, who then translated everything into English so we could understand. Since that process took a bit of time, there would often be very long periods of time before anything made it into English. Having the translators, though, made travel and communication fairly easy since even if I couldn’t speak to someone directly, I always had a translator who could translate what I wanted to say. Also, it was easier to communicate because our Quechua and Spanish translators were good, and they filled in the formalities for me when I didn’t know what needed to be said.

Overall it was quite a fun trip. It had its difficulties with communicating with people and there was definitely a learning curve with adjusting to the culture and figuring out what was and was not appropriate. However, through the preparation and mentoring I received from our EWB sponsors in the U.S. and from the classes I took at WWU, communication and cultural boundaries didn’t seem as big of an issue as they could have been. I am very thankful to have had the experience to work with EWB on this project and gain professional skills as well as making memories that will last forever. Working with EWB and traveling is an experience I would highly recommend for any engineering student interested in doing some humanitarian work.

Posted April 19, 2016

Elizabeth Schlinsog, WWU junior mechanical engineering major, during her trip to Peru over spring break.