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In fall 2016, Villanova’s popular Sustainable Engineering graduate program (MSSE) launched an international development track. Designed to train sustainable engineers as development practitioners, the track prepares graduates to engage with community partners to develop “local solutions to local problems” within a broader social, economic, environmental and political context.

“The most important aspect of the track is experiential learning through internships, volunteer assignments and research with partners around the world, in conjunction with Villanova Engineering Service Learning,” explains Iain Hunt ’15 MSSE, an alumnus who now leads the track.

The program is popular with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Villanova alumni who were active in VESL initiatives. It is also seeing increased interest from international students in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as working professionals in the United States who are interested in gaining experience in an impact-oriented sector.

These current MSSE students—all on the international development track—shared their experiences and reflections.

Matt Bemis, Ghana

Bemis worked with Lifetime Wells International on a GIS-based asset management tool for handpump water systems. 

“It’s not about going in and telling the locals what to do; it’s acting as a resource that local management teams can use to help improve and extend the sustainability of projects.”

Cristina Benzo, Peru

Benzo is working on a thesis project with the WindAid Institute to develop a methodology for accessing available wind resources and projecting how they might vary in a changing climate.

“My time with WindAid has not only opened my eyes to a beautiful, vibrant culture, but also given me the opportunity to delve into small wind energy manufacturing and implementation in developing communities.”

Mackenzie Bowden ’18 ChE, Indonesia

With a Fulbright award, Bowden will spend the year researching feedstocks for anaerobic digestion in partnership with Bogor Agricultural University.

 “During a 2017 service trip to Indonesia, I learned a valuable lesson about failure and growth. My anaerobic digestion project at that time was unsuccessful and frustrating. It inspired me, however, to research the topic further and increase my knowledge of the technology so that I can complete a redesigned project for rural application with a greater understanding of how to achieve successful results.”

Amanda Findlay ’17 CLAS, Madagascar

Findlay is working with Catholic Relief Services to develop a management tool for rural water utilities to track water quality, financial flows and customer satisfaction over time.

“I’ve learned a lot about being flexible and working as part of a team. To play even a small role in this great mission has been a privilege and a blessing.”

Terry Williams, Cambodia

For the past two summers, Williams has worked with the Caramanico Foundation promoting the adoption of simple and affordable technology to improve the quality and range of educational material available to students in the poorest parts of Cambodia.

“Development work is often difficult—working in new cultures and environments with unfamiliar customs and values—yet it can also be very rewarding when you see the enthusiasm for your ideas or solutions. Getting work done takes a lot of perseverance, however. The first step is to figure out who to ask and with whom to ally.”