Around the Yard: Ursula Volz

Around the Yard: Ursula Volz

Ursula Volz
Nordic Skiing

What program are you involved in and how did you find out about the opportunity?
I am in the Harvard Chapter of Engineers Without Borders. A couple of years ago, I worked on a project in Senegal, Africa with an international organization called Build On. We built a school in a partner village in rural Senegal alongside community members there. It was a super meaningful experience for me because of the relationships I formed with my host family while there. When I came to college, I was looking for a similar program and stumbled across Engineers Without Borders. Since I was interested in studying Mechanical Engineering, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. 

Where is the organization’s work located and how long are the trips?
The Harvard chapter of this larger organization (Engineers Without Borders-USA) is currently working in Los Sanchez, the Dominican Republic and Kibuon, Kenya. I am part of the Kenyan subsection and hoping to travel to Kibuon early this coming summer. These trips are usually a couple of weeks long. (I didn’t go on the assessment trip last summer, because I was helping with research in Sweden at the time.) 

Does this experience relate to your concentration? How does it translate to your future goals?
This experience relates to my concentration very well as it is an engineering project. The initial project goal was to work with the community to figure out how to supply clean drinking water for their community. We are responsible for the engineering and permitting aspects of the project. Specifically, we have decided to drill borehole wells and are currently working on the documentation. The next step is implementation, which will happen this following summer. Getting to be a part of the whole design and implementation process has been great for understanding what goes into an engineering project, and will hopefully be helpful in whatever career path I end up on. However, besides the engineering front, I have been the Director of Media for the organization for the past year. This part of the project (media and graphic design) has made the project even more fun for me and required me to learn some non-engineering skills that I think will be helpful in the years to come. 

What is one of your favorite experiences with the organization so far?
My favorite experience with this organization to date was the Engineers Without Borders - USA Conference this fall. It was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At this convention, there were students, professors and professional engineers from around the country who are working on similar projects around the globe, with the same mission. It was very eye-opening and exciting to get to talk to them about their own challenges and endeavors. One specific project that I heard about that blew my mind was a project on reducing wood burning consumption in cardamom driers in Guatemala. There are approximately 12,000 of these driers in use in this country since cardamom is one of Guatemala’s greatest exports. This chapter of EWB, after many failed attempts, managed to reduce wood consumption and drying time through some creative yet simple mechanical engineering advances (that cost very little to farmers). The amount of wood being consumed was cut down by 25% while the drying time was reduced by four hours. This was a very successful result. This is just one example of the stories that were presented at this conference. 

What is one of the most challenging aspects of the program?
I am really passionate about this project. For me, the most challenging part of the project has been finding enough time for it. While there is no time that the team expects you to put into it, I wish that I had more time available to dedicate to it. I feel like the more time that you put into it, the more you learn from it. 

What would you say to other students who might be interested in this opportunity?
I know that we are always looking for fresh perspectives regardless of whether you are a prospective engineer (there are various board positions and teams that are outside of the engineering realms, such as media, fundraising and programming that would be happy to have new members as well). If you are interested in joining Engineers Without Borders, I strongly encourage you to look up the Harvard Engineers