Benjamin Lawrence ChE ’13, President and Project Manager for the Villanova chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), recently secured five donated laptops for the residents of Embera Puru, an indigenous community in Panama. After being turned down by foundations that were unable to support the initiative, it took just one conversation with Dr. Gerard Jones, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Mechanical Engineering, to find a solution.
“It is a shame to see students who want to pursue careers that rely on technology miss out. A laptop will assist in their professional development immensely,” says Lawrence.
Villanova’s EWB chapter has a significant presence in Embera Puru. EWB is currently working on two main projects: a photovoltaic system aimed at powering lights in the school and the laptops, and a communications project to assist the community when medical emergencies arise.
While working on the communications project, Lawrence noticed “students in the local elementary school were not familiar with computers, nor did they have a strong grasp of the English language, which is useful in higher education,” he says. The idea for laptops came to him after Sara Taylor, a Peace Corp. volunteer living in the community, discussed how students that move on to high school face a disadvantage. He determined that laptops could be key to familiarizing villagers with technology and that the installation of Rosetta Stone language software could decrease the language barrier.
Lawrence began by contacting charitable foundations to sponsor the laptop donation. However, most refused because of the humid weather conditions in Panama and insisted on air-conditioned rooms. “These additions would cost thousands of dollars. There had to be another way,” says Lawrence, who reached out to Dr. Jones for assistance. He referred Lawrence to Stephen Fugale, Chief Technology Officer of Villanova, and within a few days, Fugale committed to donating five refurbished laptops.
Over the spring semester, two trips to Panama will occur. During each trip, a few laptops will be delivered to Embera Puru. “Those that are given opportunity should help spread opportunity, and providing laptops to allow students to pursue their dreams accomplishes just that,” says Lawrence.