Category Archives: Students

These are posts that feed into the COE Student Stories page.

Graduate School Announces Spring 2019 Award Recipients

Graduate Student in the Lab

The Graduate School announced the Spring 2019 award recipients. The following are award recipients in engineering graduate programs:

Doctoral Finishing Fellowship Award

Maria Paula Kwesiga, Biomedical Engineering
Anindya Majumdar, Biomedical Engineering
Sakineh Yazdanparast, Electrical Engineering
Xin He, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
Xian Li, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
Niranjan Miganakallu, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
Zhuyong Yang, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


Les Cayes, Haiti: Engineering World Health

Five engineering students from Michigan Tech’s chapter of Engineering World Health visited Les Cayes, Haiti in May 2018. Making the trip were electrical engineering student Megan Byrne, biomedical engineering students Gina Anderla and Kiaya Caspers, mechanical engineering student Brooke Breen, and materials science and engineering student Anna Isaacson.

Early last summer, five undergraduate engineering students from the Michigan Tech chapter of Engineering World Health took a trip to Les Cayes, Haiti. They were led by Megan Byrne, an electrical engineering undergraduate who organized the trip. They describe the experience as nothing short of life-changing.  

Engineering World Health inspires, educates and empowers young engineers, scientists and medical professionals to use their engineering skills to improve global health in the developing world.  The Michigan Tech chapter of EWH is now in its second year.

Along with Byrne on the trip were biomedical engineering students Gina Anderla and Kiaya Caspers, mechanical engineering students Lidia Johnson and Brooke Breen, and materials science and engineering student Anna Isaacson. To get to Haiti, the Michigan Tech engineering students bagged groceries, plus each spent $1,500 of their own to cover travel costs. A non-profit organization operating in Haiti, HUT Outreach, provided lodging for the Michigan Tech team during their stay, and invited them to help teach STEM subjects to a class of 7th graders in the new HUT Outreach secondary school.

Students in Haiti often drop out of school in the sixth grade, with a diminishing retention rate thereafter. HUT Outreach is trying to break that statistic. During their visit to Les Cayes, the Michigan Tech team tried to change how the high school students viewed education and experienced learning.

Kiaya Caspers teaches students about electrical circuits in Les Cayes, Haiti

“Project-based learning is a concept where students learn some theory, but also how to apply it outside the classroom, in the real world,” says Breen. “Our three day curriculum was focused around allowing Haitian students to think outside the box, being really inquisitive with hands-on learning projects. Our purpose was not only to expose them to a new way of thinking, but also to help HUT Outreach reform a new generation of Haitians who will be catalysts in creating a new way of approaching education in their country. Michigan Tech also gives us these tools and abilities—to be able to really hone in our leadership skills, and innovate ways to help create a better community around us, on a local-to-global spectrum.”

“Our EWH team wanted the students to learn the theory of series and parallel circuits, forces to build bridges, first aid, and how to build water filters,” says Byrne. “This was a challenge, because the students had not been exposed to any of these topics or hands-on learning, and they also spoke a different language.” Byrne is a peer mentor in the Learning with Academic Partners (LEAP) program for first-year engineering students in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at Michigan Tech, which also provided support for the Haiti trip. Byrne was able put her LEAP experience to good use in Haiti.

“Thanks to our Haitian translator, Wesley, I was able to use a creative twist to help the students gain understanding of the difficult lessons in a way that would be impactful for them,” she says. “As a matter of fact, the lessons we taught in Haiti were very similar to LEAP sessions I have facilitated for first year engineering students at Michigan Tech.”

Using creativity, resourcefulness and critical thinking, EWH students from Michigan Tech repaired a broken oxygen concentrator, one of only two in the public hospital pediatric ward in Les Cayes, Haiti.

The Michigan Tech team also visited a local hospital, where they fixed a broken oxygen concentrator, one of only two in the hospital pediatric ward. They also discovered a potential fire hazard at the hospital—auto headlight bulbs used as replacement bulbs on medical lamps. And they noticed a lack of surge protectors to protect medical equipment during power outages.

The EWH team wants to return to Haiti this year to continue to help prepare the next generation of Haitian students, and provide support to the small community where we served. They also want to provide the woman’s center in Les Cayes with its first portable ultrasound machine.

“We really bonded with the community in Les Cayes,” says  Isaacson. “We want to help in any way possible to make their lives better. I think we can all agree that all the people of Haiti became our second family the minute we stepped into the country.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Michigan Tech Students Attend WE18, the World’s Largest Conference for Women Engineers

Michigan Tech students at WE18. Back row, left to right: Britta Jost, Natalie Green, Erica Coscarelli, Laura Schimmel, Emily Crombez, Melanie Zondag, Claire Langfoss, Noelle Eveland, Adedoyin Adedokun, Karina Eyre, Katie Buchalski. Front row: Romana Carden, Allison Dorn, Amber Ronsman, Josie Edick, Mackenzie Brunet, Lauren Sandy, Jessica Geroux, Gretchen Hein

Seventeen members of the Michigan Tech chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) went to the national conference, WE18, October 18-20 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Advisor Gretchen Hein (EF) accompanied the delegation of 13 undergraduates and four graduate students. Three students received travel scholarships: first-year chemical engineering student Josie Edick, second-year civil engineering student Amber Ronsman and Adedoyin Adedokun, a graduate student in electrical engineering. “Gaining close friendships with the other women in the Michigan Tech section was the best part about the conference for me,” Edick says. “I gained a ton of advice and insight, which made me very excited to get more involved in SWE back on campus.”

The WE18 conference was attended by more than 14,000 SWE members, both collegiate and professional, from across the nation, who enjoyed professional development breakout sessions, inspirational keynotes, a career fair and multiple opportunities for networking.

On the evening prior to the conference, the group attended a Michigan Tech alumni gathering in Minneapolis along with Dean Janet Callahan of the College of Engineering. Katie Buchalski, section president and fourth-year student majoring in environmental engineering, enjoyed the abundance of networking at the alumni gathering. “We all had something in common to talk about … Tech,” said Buchalski. “It was nice to learn what people do after college, and see how Tech forms a special bond between people and between generations.”

Michigan Tech alumna Dr. Kaitlyn Bunker received the SWE
Distinguished New Engineer Award at WE18. She earned a PhD, MS, and BS in Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech, and is now a manager at the Rocky Island Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The next day, at WE18, the students participated in professional development activities and presentations. Some volunteered at different events and participated in SWE-sponsored institutes. At the Celebrate SWE! Awards Banquet, Kaitlyn Bunker ’17 who earned a PhD in electrical engineering at Michigan Tech, received the SWE Distinguished New Engineer Award for “contributing valuable research and renewable energy solutions in the Caribbean, and to underserved communities; and for steadfast leadership at all levels of SWE.” Bunker is currently working at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The Michigan Tech section received a Silver Collegiate SWE Mission Award, which recognizes a group that embody SWE core values.

Laura Schimmel volunteered at SWE’s outreach event for middle and high school girls, “Invent It. Build It.” Schimmel led a STEM activity for middle school girls–building “wind power plants” to lift a payload using cardboard, plastic bottles, straws, and tape. “I am taking a wind energy class at Tech right now,” says Schimmel, a fifth year double major in materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering. “I was thrilled to be able to share what I’ve learned and encourage the girls to pursue STEM in the future. There were hundreds of girls and countless creative solutions.”

Erica Coscarelli, a master’s student in environmental engineering, participated in the SWE Future Leaders (SWEFL) program. And along with Karina Eyre, Coscarelli went to the SWE Collegiate Leadership Institute (CLI), a day-long leadership development event. Both programs, led by engineers working in industry and academia, help college students gain leadership skills. “Participating in the SWE Future Leaders (SWEFL) program has been extremely beneficial for me,” Coscarelli says. “As part of the program we have monthly conference calls and complete our tasks with a buddy. At WE18 we were able to meet in person. It was great putting faces to names.”

Hein moderated a panel discussion, “Obtaining your First Academic Job/Academic Job Search”. Panelists were from a range of different types of universities and community colleges.

Michigan Tech SWE section counselor, Alumna Britta Jost joined the Michigan Tech attendees at the Celebrate SWE! Awards Banquet. Jost earned a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering 2004 and a BS in Mathematical Sciences in 2002, both at Michigan Tech, and works now as engineering project team leader at Caterpillar, Inc. 

The SWE students raised travel funds through their annual SWE “Evening with Industry” event, held each fall just before the Michigan Tech Career Fair. ArcelorMittal, Black & Veatch, and John Deere all provided support for section travel to WE 18, as well.

The best part about WE18?

“Through the SWE18 Conference I was able to secure an interview, and received an internship offer with Boeing in Washington State. If you would have told me as a freshman that I would have an offer with Boeing, I would have thought you were crazy. But being in SWE has given me the courage and experience to pursue opportunities I would have never thought possible.”
-Allison Dorn, third year student, mechanical engineering

“SWE18 exposed me greatly to American culture. I am ecstatic that I got to meet awesome women in academia and was able to interact with them both intellectually and professionally. Overall, the conference was a rewarding experience!”
-Adedsyin Adedokun, master’s student, electrical engineering

“I loved getting to know my SWE chapter, SWE alums, and other chapters. I made a lot of new friends and we bonded as a group.”
-Noelle Eveland, fourth year student, chemical engineering

“I met so many people who were excited to see our chapter at the conference because they, or someone they were friends with, went to Tech. It made me feel proud of our school.”
-Emily Cromber, master’s student, computer engineering

“Being able to listen to and be inspired by amazing women who have been in our shoes, and who have gone on to have great careers and lives.”
-Lauren Sand, fourth year student, biomedical engineering

“Being surrounded by women who support each other as we break boundaries. My passion for engineering was mirrored in every woman I met.”
-Claire Langfoss, fourth year student, biomedical engineering

“Attending the amazing career fair with over 330 companies, and the Michigan Tech Alumni event in Minneapolis, where I met and networked with tons of Huskies.”
-Romana Carden, fourth year student, engineering management

“Attending a wide variety of sessions pertaining to professional development, leadership, and career management.”
-Melanie Zondag, fourth year student, geological engineering

“Engaging with a variety of inspirational women who have broken and continue to break boundaries.”
-Jessica Geroux, fifth year student, mechanical engineering

“It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by so many powerful and knowledgeable women. From the keynote to sessions, to the career fair; the ability to grow and prepare for the professional world was extremely rewarding.”
-Amber Ronsman, second year student, civil engineering

“My favorite part was the networking. I met some awesome ‘SWEsters’ from Wyoming as well as many company recruiters and professionals in systems engineering. I know these connections will assist me in the future, and the value is priceless.”
-Natalie Green, third year student, systems engineering

“Throughout the weekend I got to meet many other women in the field, both professionals and colleagues. It expanded my horizon and helped me to make valuable connections that will last a lifetime.”
-Mackenzie Brunet, third year student, engineering management

Katie Buchalski, Michigan Tech SWE section president

Study Abroad Scholarships for Engineering Students

Engineering Study Abroad students meet on the street

The Michigan Tech College of Engineering is offering study abroad scholarships in the amount of $2,000 to students who are from the College of Engineering. To be eligible for the scholarship, you must be participating in a Michigan Tech approved study abroad program, a student from College of Engineering, and have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.

There will be expectation that scholarship recipients will help promote Michigan Tech study abroad programs after completion of their study abroad program.

Deadlines for scholarship application:

  • Spring 2019: November 15th
  • Summer 2019: March 1st
  • Fall 2019: April 1st

Learn more about this scholarship opportunity.

Apply by November 15 for Spring 2019 consideration.


Graduate School Announces Fall 2018 Award Recipients

Engineering Grad Students working in the lab

The Graduate School announced the Summer and Fall 2018 award recipients. The following are award recipients in engineering graduate programs:

Doctoral Finishing Fellowship Award

Ulises Gracida Alvarez, Chemical Engineering
Sanaz Habibi, Chemical Engineering
Long Zhang, Chemical Engineering
Shuaidong Zhao, Civil Engineering
Jingyuan Wang, Electrical Engineering
Zhimin Song, Environmental Engineering
Priscilla Addison, Geological Engineering
Hans Lechner, Geology
Huaguang Wang, Materials Science and Engineering
Shadi DaraniMechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
Soroush Sepahyar, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

Portage Health Foundation Graduate Assistantship

Anindya Majumdar, Biomedical Engineering
David Rosen, Biomedical Engineering

Dean’s Award for Outstanding Scholar

Shuaidong Zhao (Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD)
Priscilla Addison(Geological Engineering PhD)
Sampath Kumar Reddy Boyapally (Mechanical Engineering MS)
Rahul Jitendra Thakkar (Mechanical Engineering MS)
Nikhil Appasaheb Shinde(Mechanical Engineering MS)
Mitchel Timm (Mechanical Engineering MS)
Xinyu Ye (Environmental Engineering PhD)

Dean’s Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching

Dongdong Ge (Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD)
Mohammadhossein Sadeghiamirshahidi (Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD)
Aaron Krieg (Chemical Engineering PhD)
Brandi Petryk (Geology MS)
Christa Meingast (Environmental Engineering PhD)
Luke Jurmu (Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics PhD)
Mingyang Li (Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics PhD)


North Macomb Students Attend Women in Engineering Program

Women in EngineeringA trio of local students recently had a chance to explore an array of engineering careers through Michigan Technological University’s Women in Engineering program.

The Women in Engineering program is a weeklong look at engineering careers in areas such as mechanical, computer, environmental, electrical, biomedical, civil, geological and materials engineering, school officials said in a news release.

Students accepted into the program received a scholarship that covered room and board, tuition and supplies.

Read more at The Voice, by Emily Pauling.


Study Abroad: Clean, Renewable Energy in Iceland

Zoe Ketola, Systems Engineering undergraduate, studied renewable energy in Iceland this summer.
Zoe Ketola, Systems Engineering undergraduate, studied renewable energy in Iceland this summer.
Zoé Ketola enrolled in the The Green Program, which offers short-term, experiential education about the world’s most pressing issues in sustainable development. Ketola took classes through Reykjavik University School of Energy, and also traveled extensively around Iceland. In Ketola’s group there were about 20 others students, coming from Penn State, University of Michigan, Colorado State, and some Canadian universities, to name a few.

Here at Michigan Tech, Ketola is turning her innovative ideas into a reality with a BSE degree in systems engineeringan engineering degree she can customize to fit her interests. She wants to work on improving and overhauling the US electrical grid—facilitating the transition from traditional to clean energy sources.

Why did you decide to go to Iceland for your study abroad?
Iceland is what fell into my lap. It is considered the world’s renewable energy capital and renewable and clean energy are my passion. I never set out looking to go to Iceland (or anywhere, really) but when the department chair of Engineering Fundamentals, Professor Jon Sticklen, told me about the opportunity I couldn’t think of a better place to learn about what I love. Plus, have you seen pictures of the place? It’s a dream if you like the outdoors.

What was your main project while you were there?
I worked on a project that detailed providing personal solar arrays to impoverished communities within the United States. My group focused on communities in West Virginia and we looked into providing the equipment, doing install, how we would run our company, etc. We did this outside of taking courses on hydropower, geothermal, biofuels, and icelandic culture/history.What did you learn about culture and society in Iceland?
The Icelandic people are very hearty. They are independent and they kind of do their own thing. The most interesting things to me included how independent the children are and just how important keeping their public places clean is. You don’t wear your shoes in homes or the public pools. The pools also have a monitor who makes sure you shower before swimming.

“Iceland changed my life. I know that sounds cliche but I felt like I was losing my fire to make things better. I met people who cared about the same things as me and wanted to save the world. Nothing felt better than that. I can never thank my professor enough for helping me to get there.”

How has studying abroad impacted or changed your outlook?
Well, I’m itching to go back to Iceland and have been since I landed back stateside. I’m now looking more seriously at pursuing a masters dealing with energy, maybe even in Iceland.  Iceland reignited my passion to help the planet and to focus on improving the renewable/clean energy sector.

Through the Green Program, Zoé Ketola studied abroad in Iceland with a strong focus on clean renewable energy
Through the Green Program, Zoé Ketola studied abroad in Iceland with a strong focus on clean renewable energy

What was your most memorable experience?
I hiked a little over 10 miles at Fimmvörðuháls in the Icelandic highlands. When we got to the top of our hike, I couldn’t believe I was there. I was standing in between two glaciers with 20 fantastic people from all over the world and it was so surreal. The world is so big yet we all ended up there together.

Outside of working and studying, what was everyday life like? What did you do for fun?
Mostly spent time outside. I hiked everywhere it feels like, including near the southern coast and in the highlands (where I also camped). We visited hot springs, public pools, mountains, glaciers, and a local hostel where we got to meet a band we had started listening to that morning on the bus. We also visited Iceland’s largest geothermal plant and two hydropower plants, one of which was built in the 1960s.

What are your career goals?

I want to work on improving and overhauling the US electrical grid and facilitating the transition from traditional energy sources to clean energy sources. I don’t know what that means yet because it doesn’t look like anyone is doing exactly what I feel like needs to happen but I’ll figure it out along the way. If I quit every time I wasn’t sure of how to move forward I would never get anything done.

Study Abroad: Designing Water Systems in Rural Panama

A community woman uses buckets to carry water for her family in Nidori, in the province of Bocas del Toro, Costa Rica
A community woman uses buckets to carry water for her family in Nidori, in the province of Bocas del Toro, Costa Rica

In Panama much of the population is without access to clean water. Organizations including Panama’s Ministry of Health, the US Peace Corps, and now Michigan Tech through its International Senior Design Program (iDesign), have increased technical support to rural communities in Panama to help solve this problem.

A student team from Michigan Tech traveled to Panama to improve the water system in Nidori, in the province of Bocas del Toro. The team, comprised of civil and environmental engineering majors Adam Tuff, Madie Martin, Logan Anderson, Kellie Heiden and Tia Scarpelli, worked with Peace Corps volunteer Colleen Hickey to assess the needs of the community, gather data on existing water sources, and complete a survey for a new water distribution system.

Michigan Tech students L to R: Kellie Heiden, Tia Scarpelli, Madie Martin, Logan Anderson, and Adam Tuff
Michigan Tech students L to R: Kellie Heiden, Tia Scarpelli, Madie Martin, Logan Anderson, and Adam Tuff

“It was very difficult just to make it to the community,” says team member Adam Tuff. “To get there we flew into Panama City, took a bus to David District and stayed  there for the night, then in the morning took a bus to Chiriqui Grande, then a small boat. The community is definitely off the grid.”

The rural area is part of the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, one of the areas set aside by the government for the various indigenous groups of Panama. The Ngöbe people rely on water transportation throughout the community, often by canoe, due to the location of the homes and schools, as well as the rough surrounding terrain.

“Our project was a little complicated, as we serviced one community with two smaller aqueducts,” explains team member Kellie Heiden. “The first portion of our project came from the newly found quebrada ‘mountain stream’ water source. We utilized this source by designing a stream dam that siphoned water through PVC pipes to five homes that currently have no water distribution system at all. This  means that they carry buckets to and from a water source a few times a day to get adequate water. The second portion of our project collected water from the pozo ‘spring’ water source. This required the designing of a spring box and a distribute tion line that feeds into a concrete tank. The water collected in the tank will be used to service twelve homes that have a water distribution system only during the wet season.”

The team designed a stream dam that siphoned water through PVC pipes to five homes that had no water distribution system at all
The team designed a stream dam that siphoned water through PVC pipes to five homes that had no water distribution system at all

“It was difficult to figure out how we could design a simple system that would last,” adds Tuff. “It is not the same as designing a system in America where the people and parts needed to fix problems are readily available.” The team worked closely with the community members to figure out what they would be able to main tain.

Back on campus, they produced a report in both English and Spanish detailing the design process, technical design components, construction, maintenance, feasibility, recommendations, and impact their project will have on the community.

Implementation depends on funding, but the team is optimistic. “Our time in Panama was difficult due to factors like weather—full days of rain—and access limitations. Just getting to the sites was an adventure,” says team member Tia Scarpelli. “But the field experience was very rewarding. The people of Nidori really wanted to know how they could help.” Adds Scarpelli: “Studying abroad and especially programs like iDesign are very helpful if a student is considering something like the Peace Corps—it will give you a great snapshot of what that sort of experience is like without the full-on commitment.”

Kellie Heiden earned her BS in Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2015. She is now a Project Engineer at August Mack Environmental, Inc. Tia Scarpelli earned a BS in 2015 and MS in 2016, both in Environmental Engineering. Adam Tuff earned a BS in Civil Engineering in 2014. He is now a Construction Inspector at HDR in Bellevue, Washington. Madie Martin earned a BS in Civil Engineering in 2015. She is now a Engineer II at Kiewit in Houston, Texas. Logan Anderson earned a BS in Civil Engineering in 2015. He is a world traveler and teacher at VIPKid and Rustic Pathways.


Study Abroad: Investigating Myocardial Graft Materials in Hannover

Michigan Tech MSE student Jacob Braykovich studied abroad at Leibniz University Institute of Materials Science.
Michigan Tech MSE student Jacob Braykovich studied abroad at Leibniz University Institute of Materials Science.

Jacob Braykovich, a materials science and engineering major at Michigan Technological University, had spent two years working in the Michigan Tech Surface Innovations lab, helping to develop biodegradable zinc-based cardiac stents. He had a summer internship at start-up InPore Technologies, working on polymeric water filtration systems. But he wanted to do something different during the last summer before earning his undergraduate degree. 

Braykovich thought about going overseas, and began looking into options. That’s when he discovered the RISE program, or Research Internships in Science and Engineering. The RISE program is for students in the USA, Canada, or UK who want to spend a summer researching science or engineering at German universities. Braykovich applied for and won a scholarship to attend Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany.

Braykovich joined a team of researchers at Leibniz University Institute of Materials Science working on myocardial graft materials. Myocardial grafts, both biological and synthetic, are used to help restore damaged myocardium, or heart muscle. Whether from heart attack or disease, damage to the myocardium can result in scar tissue, which can diminish the heart’s ability to contract and pump blood effectively.

“The Liebniz team, led by Hans Jürgen Maier, has developed a biodegradable magnesium alloy scaffold designed to mechanically support a myocardial graft and then gradually lose its function as the graft develops its own strength,” Braykovich explains.

Biodegradable scaffolds are cut with a water jet at Leibniz University Institute of Materials Science
Biodegradable scaffolds are cut with a water jet at Leibniz University Institute of Materials Science

“The work was similar to my research here at Michigan Tech, so I was able to hit the ground running,” he says. Braykovich worked on perfecting the abrasive water injection jet cutting strategy employed to produce the scaffolds—analyzing design, cutting-edge roughness, and burr generation. “I ultimately determined the optimum pressure, flow rate, abrasive size and material, traverse rate, and orifice diameter of the cutting technique,” he says.

He started each day with coffee and a pastry from a local bakery and headed to work on the train. His tasks at work ranged from cutting samples in the manufacturing facility to using the 3D laser microscope to take images of the cuts, which he then analyzed.

“Through the experience, I found the hierarchy of the education/research system at Liebniz to be much different than what I have known, and with that the expectations were much different. But through making mistakes, I gradually began to understand and appreciate the diverse culture,” he says.

Leibniz University Institute of Materials Science
Leibniz University Institute of Materials Science

Outside the lab each weekend Braykovich traveled solo to a new city or country. Berlin, a short 90-minute train ride from Hannover, was his favorite city. “There are people living in Berlin from almost every country you can possibly imagine, making the cultural dynamic something unlike I have ever experienced,” he says.

“Ultimately, working in a foreign country has allowed me to see past my current horizon onto new ideas and experiences,” adds Braykovich. “It taught me how to take a leap of faith into any unknown situation.”

Jacob Braykovich earned a BS in Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2015. He is now a PD Quality Engineer at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan, where he is responsible for delivering quality of all interior functions for future Ford F-150 trucks.


Volunteering Abroad: A Change of Plan in Cartago, Costa Rica

Michigan Tech mechanical engineering student Alexandra Tateosian volunteers in Cartano, Costa Rica through for the non-profit organization UBELONG.
Michigan Tech mechanical engineering student Alexandra Tateosian volunteers in Cartago, Costa Rica through UBELONG, an international non-profit organization.

As a mechanical engineering senior at Michigan Tech, Alexandra Tateosian left campus for Cartago, Costa Rica thinking she would be assisting with the construction planning of a center for disadvantaged youth as a volunteer for the non-profit organization UBELONG. 

Tateosian wanted to spend time abroad before beginning a full-time job at 3M. After tutoring many international friends in English while studying in Australia, she began considering living abroad to teach English or for other volunteering opportunities. Her experiences as an intern for two international companies, Bemis Company and 3M, also sparked her interest in working abroad at a future point in her career.

The day she arrived in Cartago she learned that instead she would be working at a care center for the elderly. “The drastic change in projects was a good lesson in the nature of volunteerism as well as the importance of flexibility and adapting to local needs,” says Tateosian.

“I was able to make the most out of the new experience and learned a lot by approaching it with an open mind.”

While the center is very familiar with having volunteers come to assist staff, Tateosian was the first international volunteer to come with the objective of working on a specific project. “The first step was to identify areas of need,” she says. “We decided to focus on the Taller de Carpinteria (the woodshop).” One portion of her volunteer work she helped assess safety recommendations for the tools and equipment. She also designed woodworking projects to get more of the seniors involved, including building and painting puzzles that are used in other areas of the center as mind exercises.

“One goal was for me to train some of the seniors to be leaders for future projects after I left.” Tateosian worked closely with the staff to coordinate all the details. “It was certainly an amplified lesson in the importance of communication due to the language barriers,” she says.

“Exposing myself to different places and cultures became an important part of my life. I learned about human nature and how people interact similarly and differently and reasons for the differences,” adds Tateosian.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Cartago, Costa Rica
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Cartago, Costa Rica

Cartago is about a one-hour bus ride from San José, the capital city of Costa Rica, with many restaurants, museums, and other sites. Tateosian climbed to the top of Volcán Poás. She ate dinner each night with her host family and took a rock climbing and mountain biking trip nearby. On a visit to nearby Nicaragua to explore Ometepe Island she happened to meet a fellow Tech student in the Peace Corps Master’s International Program.

Her most memorable experience while living, working and studying abroad? “At the care center we ran an activity with the seniors where they reflected on what amor (love) meant to them. Afterwards, an elderly woman approached me and said ‘este es amor’ (this is love) and gave me a big hug.”

Alexandra Tateosian earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2014. She is now an Advanced Project Engineer at 3M.