WASHINGTON – For many college students, spring break means ditching the books and heading south for sun and sand. But, the Howard University chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-HU) will skip the beach and trade their swimsuits for work boots and hard hats to help others in rural Panama.

Nearly twenty Howard students and their advisors will travel 2,000 miles to Coclé, Panama, 71 miles west of Panama City, where they will spend seven days (March 16-23) making a difference in the lives of the 28 girls who call the Hogar de Niñas de Penonomè orphanage home. The shelter houses children ages 7 to 18 years, many of whom have been removed from abusive and incestuous homes. The students will be traveling under the institutional umbrella of their partnering organization, Global Business Brigades.

After months of planning and assessment, international conference calls with local universities and business owners, the volunteers are ready to implement. The participants whose majors range from business to engineering, will tackle several projects from building a rain cover to fixing washing machines and enhancing the girl’s esteem through a “Make me Beautiful” campaign.

“The 21st century engineer now must have more than just technical knowledge of their field. He or she must also be business savvy and globally aware,” said Alexandria McBride, junior, civil engineering major and president of EWB-HU. “What is different about this trip is that we are implementing sustainable projects and more importantly we are not only giving the girls a fish, but we are teaching them to fish,” the Atlanta native added.

According to World Bank statistics, one in three people or 37 percent of the population live below the poverty line. Children are most affected; in fact, half of all Panamanian children are poor.

An assessment visit to Panama during December was a life changing for Vallejo, California native Jomari Peterson. He returned to campus motivated to revisit to Coclé. Peterson’s energy was contagious. Before long he had more than a dozen of his peers interested in the Panama mission.

“That is what Howard is truly about,” Peterson said. “We are prepared to be leaders not only at home, but abroad. After my visit in December, I knew it was important for Howard to be a part of this important project and use our skills to change people’s lives.

The trip to Central America is the inaugural international project for EWB-HU, the first chartered at a Historically Black College or University. The organization, while engineering centered, has participants from a broad range of fields.

“Engineering is key to international development and Engineers Without Borders was started with the idea of providing technical and developmental assistance to communities around the world,” said John Tharakan, Ph.D., EWB-HU advisor and professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. “However, no real problem in this world can be solved through a single discipline.”

The students spearheaded a fundraising campaign, which raised approximately $20,000 to offset the cost of the trip for 15 students and to purchase work material, school supplies and four computers for the orphanage. The sponsors include Swinerton Builders, Malcolm Pirnie, EnPro Industries, and United Black Fund. The Howard University College of Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Science (CEACS) also rallied behind the cause.

During the club’s pre-departure presentation, Anita Moore-Hackney (B.A. ’50) lauded the students for their exceptional work and selflessness.

“As an alumna and native of Panama, I am truly proud,” Moore-Hackney said. “What you are doing for this community is amazing. It is worthy of high commendation that you are willing to use your spring break to serve.”

Howard will partner with Global Business Brigades and Plan 4 Success, two non-profit organizations that focus on the development of micro-enterprises in rural areas of Panama. The mission of Global Business Brigades is to facilitate student travel to developing countries to assist in local economic development by providing business solutions to micro-enterprises in rural villages with limited access to resources. The other partnering organization, Plan 4 Success, is a nonprofit aimed to prepare undergraduate minority students for meaningful career-focused positions.

Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 12 schools and colleges. Founded in 1867, students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. Since 1998, the University has produced two Rhodes Scholars, a Truman Scholar, a Marshall Scholar, 19 Fulbright Scholars and 11 Pickering Fellows. Howard also produces more on-campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, call 202-238-2330, or visit the University’s Web site at http://www.Howard.edu.

Engineers Without Borders – USA (EWB-USA) is a non-profit humanitarian organization established to partner with developing communities worldwide in order to improve their quality of life. This partnership involves the implementation of sustainable engineering projects, while involving and training internationally responsible engineers and engineering students.