Building a Bridge Between Two Worlds
For College of Engineering senior Jessie Lindseth, building a simple bridge is an eye-opening experience. More than 100 men have come to help her, 12 other engineering students and faculty volunteers build a bridge between the villages of Panchaj and La Garrucha in Guatemala. Dozens of women and children are standing along the riverbank, just watching.
Building a Bridge
A huge crowd shot fireworks and played music to welcome us. The people dressed in their finest tribal outfits and prepared a special meal. At first I was overwhelmed. I was just taking a few days out of my Christmas break to go somewhere warm and build a small bridge. Not a big deal, right? I'm starting to realize just how much this effort means, and it makes me feel great.
We started early and were met by more than 100 locals ready to help. I can't believe how they work as a team to carry all of the large rocks to the middle of the riverbed so that the center support can be built. It couldn't happen without the sheer force of this group. Something as simple as a crane or loader would have made this project much easier, but those things are not available here.
Today we poured concrete. It was amazing to see that although there is a language barrier, everyone is able to work together to complete the assigned tasks together.
Our part of the bridge is almost done. I can't believe what we've accomplished in just eight days. I used my degree to the fullest and changed the lives of thousands of people. I changed in so many ways, too.
Their tools are simple: shovels, pick axes and whatever else is on hand. Their motivation, complex. Marquette students designed the bridge last semester. It will be built with reinforced concrete and steel, composites chosen because they are less expensive and the villagers fear a wooden bridge could be destroyed in a fire or damaged in a heavy rain.
Jessie volunteered to spend part of Christmas break building the bridge. She expected an adventure and a chance to catch some rays, maybe even a winter tan. She hadn't anticipated this, working sun up to sun down beside these villagers, who move boulders through sheer determination because backhoes and bulldozers are not available. And even more unbelievable to Jessie, no one complains.
"I'm starting to see this work not as a college project for me, but as a new social, environmental, economic reality for them," she says. "With 30 feet of bridge, we're connecting people to health care, education, supplies and each other." This bridge is not just a service project; it is very much a lifeline. Connecting people who, despite only 30 feet of distance, seem miles apart. Jessie is learning the incredible social impact of engineering.
Jessie took classes on mechanical and structural engineering, so she's loving this chance to be in the thick of it, learning the human significance of engineering. It's making her a better engineer. In eight hot days, the crew clears earth, sets the center support by piling dozens of huge rocks in the middle of the river bed, and pours tons of concrete. It will take another crew from Marquette and the men from the two villages another eight days to finish.
"We grow by struggling to understand the world outside of ourselves," Jessie says. "I have seen how my profession fits into the world and contributes to improving lives. It has already improved my own."
Jessie could have attended any engineering school to learn how to design a bridge. She chose Marquette so she could build one.