Students Design Schoolhouse
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Students Design Schoolhouse

In the town of Telpochapa in Nicaragua, students from kindergarten to fifth grade meet on someone’s front porch and attend “school.” The Cooperative Engineering Program at University of St. Thomas, in collaboration with Engineers Without Borders, University of Houston Chapter, is in the process of building a schoolhouse for 30 students and teachers in Telpochapa.

Engineers Without Borders is an opportunity for engineering students and practicing engineers to give back to the community and struggling communities in the developing world. Dr. Henry Foust, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Cooperative Engineering, said the collaboration is fruitful and UST is taking a more active role.

“We would take a simple schoolhouse for granted, but it can change these young students’ lives,” Foust said. “Incidentally, the cost for the schoolhouse to include materials, labor and international travel is about $30,000 with much of this cost being due to materials. EWB/UH volunteers all its effort, which includes the students and several mentors, who make sure the schoolhouse is functional and safe.”

UST is helping EWB/UH with auto-cad drawings and to raise funds for this summer’s trip to complete the school house. UST volunteers support EWB/UH, which is a small chapter with only five members, by working on progress reports as large as 124 pages. For about six months, the students have helped the team sift through the reports and help with the engineering drawings. Foust said the schoolhouse will have a useful life of 15–20 years.

Two UST students will be invited to go on the trip to Nicaragua, and Foust is beginning the fundraising. The cost of airline and local travel is about $950 per student. Billy Taylor, a junior cooperative engineering major, has already been selected to go on the trip and said this opportunity will be a great benefit to his education as well as his experience with other cultures.

“Coming from a large family, I did not have many chances to travel,” Taylor said. “This trip would be an exciting way to introduce me to a culture that is very different from our own.  I will be able to see how families interact, the quality of their living conditions and transportation, how their food differs from ours. 

Also, the work will allow me to observe the native culture as opposed to a tourist-based culture.  In addition to this experience with a new culture, I would also have the ability to put into practice what I have been studying as an engineering student at UST.  Instead of solving problems on paper, I will have the opportunity to solve a problem in real life and help others in the process.”

To learn more about the project and to donate to the cause, visit the UH-Chapter page on the EWB-USA website. Also, contact Foust,, for more information.

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