by Diego Socorro Neira
Student POV Giving Back
Since my freshman year, I always felt the need to get involved in activities and groups I thought could be beneficial for the rest of my academic and professional careers. Part of that goal was accompanied by my desire to continue to be a leader and put together a plan to do big things with other students on and off the campus.
In finding a way to accomplish that desire here at USI, I joined the University’s Engineers in Action chapter—an international, student-led organization that builds bridges for people to reconnect them to their communities. Being a business marketing major, I took on the role of fundraiser for the chapter’s first solo bridge-building project in West Virginia last summer. One of the activities I organized to raise funds was a Valentine’s Day booth, where we received donations for the bridge construction, but also made some profit by selling chocolate strawberries and cupcakes. Part of the funds were used to purchase Engineers in Action customized sweatshirts and T-shirts for the West Virginia project travel team. The remaining funds were saved in our organization’s account to cover future on-campus activities, and the donations were used to cover part of the construction materials payment to the Engineers in Action staff account.
A team of eight USI students and two instructors spent three weeks building a vehicle bridge for the Nichols family (a mother and son), whose old bridge—a 30-foot span over a small creek— was damaged by several floods months earlier. Without a bridge, only the son was able to walk through the creek and climb a small hill to catch a ride to work. During the project, we stayed in a church 30 minutes away from our bridge site. Our group shared the church with two engineers from JZ Engineering. We worked alongside this consulting firm to learn the technical guidelines for bridge construction.
As I woke every morning and prepared my food for the day, my desire to build the bridge led me to work hard and help accomplish the daily goals of the team. On the site, my role as fundraiser changed to more hands-on and labor-intensive, such as cutting wood, carrying concrete materials and moving rocks from the river to other spots of the bridge site.
Our days were long and hard. My body hurt from a recent hip surgery after tearing my hip labral while training with the Florida International University soccer team in Miami months earlier. Even with the pain, I never stopped doing my best and supporting whoever needed it. Every night I sat on my bed and thought about what I did right and wrong, and how I could improve my abilities to get more things done the next day.
This project helped me improve my construction skills such as excavating, concreting and woodworking. But it also helped me practice my leadership, communication and safety skills. Helping people is something I love doing, and knowing this bridge changed the life of a family in a poor economic situation made me feel proud of myself and my USI Engineers in Action team. As my third year at the University is around the corner, and as a foreigner from Venezuela, I see every activity and project as a chance to help people and show myself to this awesome community. I am proud to be a Screaming Eagle who is excited to keep chasing more goals and supporting the people who gave me an opportunity in this new country I now call home.
For more information about USI’s accredited Engineering Department, visit USI.edu/engineering.