Somewhere between her first-year dorm room and a remote village in Madagascar, Elizabeth Cullen discovered her passion.
In her first year at Villanova, Elizabeth lived in the Faith and Reason residential learning community and was introduced to the myriad community service initiatives around campus.
Just when she thought she would have to pursue those opportunities in whatever breaks she could find in her Chemical Engineering studies, her adviser introduced her to the Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL) program. With its project offerings rooted in ethical engagement with communities around the world, Elizabeth wouldn’t have to choose between studies and service.
“I saw that Engineering and service could both be a big part of my experience here. Getting really involved in VESL was what gave me a big ‘a-ha’ moment and a vision of how I can continue to blend those interests in my career,” Elizabeth says.
On her first VESL trip, Elizabeth traveled to Nicaragua and worked with a team of students to construct a gravity-fed system to transport water from a spring into the village. Building on that experience, she then traveled to Madagascar.
For two months, she worked with a local organization and traveled to villages to talk with residents about their water infrastructure needs. She then helped to design and implement plans for a variety of projects, from dams and irrigation systems to bathroom facilities.
Seeing firsthand how access to clean water can transform communities, Elizabeth has turned her attention to the underlying research. For her senior project, she is studying innovative ways to decontaminate water using naturally occurring proteins that bind contaminants and make them easier to remove from water.
“Because of all of my experiences at Villanova, I have so much more confidence in my communication and technical skills, which I will need to work on clean water projects,” she says. “I’ve found what I am passionate about, and I’ve had so many impactful, hands-on experiences.”