Author: Stephanie Albert, junior
Honors students Kelsey Vinzant ‘20 and Meg Whelan ’21 first connected with each other through the Honors Mentorship Program, which pairs incoming Honors students with upperclassman peers. In one of their first conversations, Kelsey mentioned her involvement with Fordham’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), which has since become another shared experience for the pair.
Kelsey, the current president of the club says, “At Fordham, EWB is a group of students of many disciplinary backgrounds and we are partnered with a community in Uganda through an NGO there called “Selocoffi” which stands for Serere Local Community Fish Farming Initiative. Through their partnership, we are linked to communities that are interested in building fish farms. Our task is to visit and survey land, then design a suitable fish farm for their community.” Thus far, the Fordham chapter of EWB has successfully built two fish farms.
This past August, Kelsey and Meg, along with several other Fordham participants, visited their partner community in Uganda. The trip lasted for 10 days and involved almost 48 hours of travel to get from the United States to the small villages in Uganda. The main purpose of their trip was to oversee construction to make sure things were going well. Three people who went on the trip were very involved technically so they could help with any issues or any necessary deviations from their designs that arose. They also met with the community to sign contracts and assign roles, such as a security guard, for the new fish farm. The Fordham group also was able to briefly look at land for a new breeding center project location, which is the third stage of Fordham’s EWB project. It will allow the club to have a more widespread impact because more Ugandans will have access to the center, making the project more sustainable for the communities. The Fordham students were also able to go visit a full-scale fish farm that is funded by numerous organizations including the UN, so they were able to get to see how a larger-scale project operated and what their project could possibly grow into in the future.
While visiting, the group stayed at the home of the man who operates Selocoffi. “His family was really wonderful and his daughter Lucy was always cooking for us and bringing out these amazing meals.” “The trip didn’t seem as busy [while we were there] but looking back on it, we were able to do quite a lot.”
Both Meg and Kelsey noted that community interactions were the most memorable parts of the trip. A particularly special interaction was meeting the Ugandan students who benefit from the portion of farm proceeds that goes to local education and healthcare initiatives. They interacted with the students by exchanging language lessons — the Fordham students shared some English phrases with the kids, who then taught them some words in Ateso, their native dialect. This was Meg’s first ever trip abroad, so a lot stood out to her but learning about the culture of the people they were visiting was the most impactful.
For each Fordham EWB delegation, there are a few students who have participated in previous visits. Their leadership helps facilitate introductions and interactions with their host community. The most rewarding aspect of the trip was the meeting with the host community because they presented gifts to the returning Fordham delegates. “We have an adult professional engineer who travels with us and they gave him a live chicken which is a big deal,” shared Kelsey.
In reflecting on taking this trip with her Honors mentor, Meg spoke about how grateful she was to have Kelsey to help orient her in addition to orienting the whole group. The last three presidents of EWB have been Rose Hill Honors students and numerous other members of the club have also been Honors students. Although there were cultural and communication barriers as well as a variety of stakeholders for the Fordham team to coordinate with, Meg and Kelsey used the skills they’d learned around the Honors seminar table to discern when to speak up and when to listen, in order to collaborate well for this global partnership.