Carnegie Mellon University

Group photo

April 16, 2019

Service Inspires Educational Focus

Outside of San Juan, where Hurricane Maria was most destructive, the residents of Puerto Rico have been harnessing power, public policy, community organizations and engineering projects to renew and repair their communities. But, CEE/EPP first year student Rimsha Ahmed doubts many Americans know that.

“Pretty much everything I saw was not on the news,” says Ahmed of her trip to the island with CMU In Puerto Rico during Spring Break 2019.

She was one of 13 students – graduate and undergraduate – who traveled with CMU in Puerto Rico to observe, participate in educational opportunities and help with projects.

In addition to raising funds to help Puerto Rico rebuild (the group raised more than $4,000 in donations prior to the Spring Break 2019 trip), CMU in Puerto Rico sends students to the island to learn about and participate in a variety of projects, ranging from engineering and energy programs, to climate resiliency programs, to sustainability and community uplift programs. The end goal is students who, moving into their professional lives, will have experience in disaster recovery and climate resilience planning as the effects of stronger storms are felt in more communities across the globe.

Ahmed was attracted to join CMU in Puerto Rico by the academic diversity of the group, as well the opportunity to augment her own academic pursuits in CEE and EPP with doing good works. She says prior to their trip, members took part in educational activities to learn about Puerto Rico – its history, its challenges, and its unique culture. The students also learned about what has happened to the island since Hurricane Maria.

Significantly, she says, they learned how local residents have taken the reigns of rebuilding, in many cases bringing engineering and new technology to bear when the federal and commonwealth’s government has fallen short.

Key to successful recovery, is working with residents to address needs in a manner that respects the culture and wishes of the people who live there, she says.

The graciousness of the people the group interacted with, as well as their ingenuity, left a lasting impression on Ahmed. For example, she speaks about the people involved with Urbe Apie in Caguas, a non-profit organization that is utilizing abandoned and unused spaces to create opportunities for educational, art and cultural activities, gardens, and tourism. The CMU students stayed in a hostel operated by Urbe Apie, worked in a community garden and engaged with the residents.

“It was a culturally enriching experience,” Ahmed says. “We went in thinking we would do a lot of labor. But they wanted us to learn about their community, they wanted us to hear and share their stories.”

The students also had the opportunity to engage with engineering professors and students from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, who are leading the way on solar energy and who shared with the CMU students the challenges of implementing community-scaled microgrids.

Additionally, they went to Añasco Corcovada, where they learned about the aqueduct system there, which is run on solar power. Ultimately, the community hopes to completely disconnect from the commonwealth’s electric grid.

“One of the most educationally intensive places we went was the aqueduct,” she says, adding that there was tremendous value in learning about both the aqueduct and solar projects. “We go to a very prestigious university here at CMU. So, seeing these students do these projects in their communities and making an immediate impact is amazing.”

CMU in Puerto Rico will be presenting their Alternative Spring Break Trip Recap at two sessions:
Wednesday, April 17th at 4:30pm in Scaife Hall, Room 220
Thursday, April 18th at 12:00 - 1pm Hamburg Hall, Room 2008