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USI Engineers in Action chapter helps design and build pedestrian bridge in eSwatini in southern Africa

October 2, 2023

This past June, five students from the University of Southern Indiana’s Engineers in Action (EIA) chapter departed for the Hhohho region of eSwatini in southern Africa to build a pedestrian footbridge to connect isolated communities to schools, hospitals and stores. The bridge, completed in six weeks, benefits over 4,800 residents in local communities, including more than 3,500 children. The bridge that had previously been used to connect the community to critical resources was often not usable for over seven months of the year due to eSwatini’s rainy season flooding and had to be rebuilt yearly after being washed away.  

The EIA team that designed and built the bridge, named Emkhiweni, was composed of students from USI, McGill University and Oregon State University. USI and McGill worked as co-leaders on the project while Oregon State participated as a tag-a-long. In total, 12 students worked on the project, including five from both USI and McGill universities and two from Oregon State. 

The students experienced multi-faceted involvement, including staying with local host families, communication with local government officials, partnership with local masons, involvement in community events and more. The trip is equally a cultural experience as well as an educational one.  

Along with USI faculty members Dr. Jason Hill, Associate Professor of Engineering, and Justin Amos, Laboratory Manager of the Applied Engineering Center, seven students from USI had specific roles during the project. USI civil engineering students Corrie Grubb and Daniel Lopez, along with contributors from other universities, helped design the bridge over the course of six months. “Their design was approved by the EIA staff, and the final design plans were stamped by a licensed professional engineer,” said Hill. 

Koby Lindner, mechanical engineering major ‘23, was one of the Lead Construction Managers on the project. In his role, he created construction schedules, led daily team meetings and ensured everyone was on task daily. One of his biggest challenges in the role was balancing what was required for the project with preferences for what each person preferred to work on, which sometimes conflicted. Lindner participated in the USI EIA chapter’s 2019 bridge build in eSwatini and was able to construct full sentences in siSwati during his most recent visit. 

Josiah Hollis, electrical engineering major ‘25, served as Safety Manager during construction. In his role, he was responsible for overseeing and enforcing safety standards on site, ensuring proper safety gear and implementation of safety protocols. “My experience in Africa was profoundly transformative, immersing me in the rich tapestry of its culture, the heartfelt warmth of its people and the genuine authenticity that defines the region,” Hollis said, speaking of his time on the trip. “I had the privilege of witnessing the unwavering work ethic of the local community and the inherent beauty of eSwatini's landscapes.” 

Lisa Botello, civil engineering major 24, was the Travel Logistics Manager and oversaw travel information, sleeping accommodations, finances and meals. A challenge she faced in her role was the language barrier. Confirming important details in a foreign country was stressful, but luckily, many eSwatini people learn English in grade school. 

Melanie Cedeno Morales, electrical engineering major ’24, was USI’s first Media Manager for the project. In her role, she collected photos and videos from the trip of the work and interactions between the team and the local community to create a video and photo essay to document the entirety of the project. “I documented the whole process of the completion of the bridge. It was a rich cultural experience that I was able to capture with my camera,” said Morales. “Two months in eSwatini have changed me as a person and as a student. I am passionate about becoming a global leader for change and motivated to continue putting my academic knowledge to action to help communities around the world.” 

She plans to create a photo book on the project that will be sent to the school children in eSwatini. Morales also assisted in the creation of training videos that will be used by EIA to educate future teams that showed the quality control process of a bridge walkaway. 

Miguel Pinto, electrical engineering major ‘25, served as Project Manager, which included overseeing and assisting each student with their activities, such as design, living arrangements, food, transportation, construction planning, safety and material logistics. His primary goal was to ensure everyone was fulfilling their responsibilities in order for the bridge to be successfully completed. “Much like the bridges we construct, our journey as students in the EIA Bridge Program connects knowledge to action,” Pinto says of the impact of these projects. “With each bridge we build, we intricately weave a tapestry of understanding engineering concepts, empathy with team members and collaboration with the local community.” 

The project team also relies on involvement from the local community. In eSwatini, more than 20 members of the local community helped with various aspects of the bridge construction.  

In 2022, USI's EIA chapter spent six weeks in Bolivia building a bridge to connect an isolated community to critical resources. In 2021, they spent two weeks in West Virginia building a vehicular bridge to assist in rebuilding communities across the state damaged by high water events, including severe flooding in 2016 and 2017. In 2019, USI students and faculty traveled to eSwatini to participate in an EIA Bridge project mentoring experience, assisting Cornell University in the build of a 90-meter foot bridge to allow villagers to safely cross a dangerous river. Students from the 2023 trip were able to visit the bridge that was built in 2019, which is one of the most utilized bridges out of the 20 bridges built in the country by EIA teams. 

The USI EIA chapter is currently recruiting for future teams. Students of all majors are invited to participate. For more information, contact Hill, at For more information about USI’s accredited Engineering Department, visit 

View a photo gallery of the bridge building process 

Captions are available upon request. 

View a video of the bridge building process 

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