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Empowering education through volunteering: An intern’s perspective

September 13, 2021

An intern in Stantec’s buildings group, Anabella Noguera shares her experience volunteering with two organizations and how they help empower the next generation

Sharing knowledge is a privilege. To help one another through teaching is essential for future generations to build on the knowledge of those who came before them. Whether through coaching a coworker, hosting a seminar, or simply being open to questions, you are doing your part to contribute to the growing pond of wisdom. For me, helping groups who are historically underrepresented in higher education or helping communities who lack safe education conditions is the aim of the two organizations I am a part of. These two organizations have been my platform to support kids less fortunate than me reach new levels of education.

American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES)

As a descendant of Los Indios de Sebaco tribe in Nicaragua, I joined the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) chapter at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and served as the internal vice president for 2020/2021. My position in the chapter focused on two aspects: tutoring and outreach events. The aim being to encourage and enable students of historically underrepresented demographics—particularly of Indigenous descent—to succeed in STEM fields.

We would tutor students ages 11 – 18 individually in their STEM subjects on a weekly basis to help them gain confidence and one day pursue attending a top university like UCLA. We as a chapter felt extremely fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to continue to higher education and in the simple act of setting aside some time to tutor students, can possibly inspire others to pursue higher education themselves.

The other major aspect of my position with AISES was an outreach event called Youth Motivation Day. This event addressed the underrepresentation of Indigenous students in higher education in a slightly different way through a large event aimed at a much younger group. Youth Motivation Day (YMD for short) invites middle schools from around Los Angeles with prominent underrepresented demographic populations to UCLA’s campus for a day filled with STEM activities.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic turned this past year’s event virtual, we successfully led a rockets and coding workshop using the HopIn platform to more than 200 middle schoolers. At this young age, an introduction to these STEM activities can be impactful on their career choice later down the road. More importantly, their interaction with college students during this event is one of the most influential aspects of the event, helping them realize higher education is attainable when they see that we used to be in similar shoes.

Through one-on-one tutoring and hosting a large workshop, I am honored to impact the futures of these students. Not only do I get to help others but I get to meet people from different backgrounds and learn from them as well.

The opening ceremony of Youth Motivation Day broadcasted to over 300 people.

Engineers Without Borders

Spreading the gift of knowledge is not only done by focusing on underserved populations here in LA, but a little help can go a long way in international communities as well where a safe education environment can be difficult to come by. That is the aim of Engineers Without Borders at UCLA, a club I am honored to lead as its president. Engineers Without Borders at UCLA focuses our efforts on three projects: the Nicaragua project, the Navajo project, and the Uganda project.

Throughout my time at UCLA, I have been deeply involved with the Nicaragua project. The objective is to build a schoolhouse in a small town along the eastern coast of Nicaragua, called San Sebastian. Their existing school is small, dirt-floored, rotting, and overall, not a safe environment for these children to effectively learn. This community reached out for help and we have been working on the project ever since 2017. Not only do we get to help the future generations of the San Sebastian community, but we get to apply the lessons we learn in our engineering classroom to an actual project. 

Existing school adjacent to the construction site.

Late last year, we got our final design approved. It will be a single story, wood-framed structure with a concrete foundation that will serve approximately 300 students. Our small team of about 15 students from various engineering disciplines raised $30,000 last year to fund our first remote implementation trip. Unfortunately, due to COVID, what was intended for us to build by hand, we now have had to hire a local contractor to build for us.    

2020 was a long year of contacting potential donors, rigorous back and forth comments on the design, an intense interview process to hire our new contractor, and working with the university to access our donations, all the while running a club and keeping everyone motivated on a virtual platform. Despite the roadblocks, construction of this phase which includes the entire concrete foundation is nearly done and scheduled to be completed this September 2021. Then we’ll raise funds for the next phase: the wood framing. This will be an important milestone for the team to see this building approach its completion.

3D model of the new structure, in an early stage of design.

Final Thoughts

As much as I get to help others, these projects have helped me just as much. I can confidently say they have led me to where I am today and have solidified my passion for sharing the gift of education.

Being an intern with Stantec is a testimony to the opportunities these organizations have afforded me. To collaborate alongside other professionals working in my dream job every day is incredibly motivating. It’s only solidifying my aspirations to become a structural engineer where I can design structures that may very well change the life of a community. These projects, my teammates, and the communities we’re serving are inspiring to me—in turn, I hope it can inspire others become involved in their communities and the world at-large.

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