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Kenyan Field Studies Trip Opens New Global Horizons

Thursday, August 01, 2013
Liz Surrounded
Popular Person: Alex Schwier, a 2013 biomedical engineering graduate, is surrounded by several students from Kenya's Morop Girls Secondary School after talking about careers in science and engineering for women. She has kept in touch with many of the students through email. (Photo by Bryan Correll)

Kenyan-born mechanical engineering professor Richard Onyancha, PhD, and geography professor Michael Kukral, PhD, couldn't imagine the educational, cultural, and personal rewards students and recent alumni would harvest from this summer's field studies adventure throughout the African country.

Most of the group of 12 had taken Africa geography courses, taught by Kukral as part of Rose Hulman's humanities and social sciences curriculum. Others sought a meaningful international experience from the 16-day journey before beginning their careers.

"Every day was filled with new challenges and opportunities for students in learning about the people, the way of life, engineering education, and the tremendous diversity of East African physical geography and wildlife," says Kukral.

Onyancha hoped the trip would encourage young Kenyans to pursue education in a STEM field, increase global awareness about Rose-Hulman, and introduce Class of 2013 graduates as international role models to Kenyan school children.

Alex Schwier, a biomedical engineering alumnus, helped inspire several students attending the Morop Girls Secondary School after showcasing how women can strive for a career in science and engineering-which, historically, has not been encouraged in Kenya. She has continued email contact with many of the girls, one of whom wants to become a neurosurgeon.

"Managing to have that effect on multiple people is truly an amazing feeling," says Schwier, the 2013 Herman A. Moench Distinguished Senior Commendation Award winner.

After the trip, the deputy principal of the Kipsyenan Secondary School, Laurette Mueni, wrote to professors Kukral and Onyancha that the students "touched our hearts in a special way, which we cannot easily put into words. It is also important to let you know that our students are taking the science subjects more seriously since your visit."

The trip was a life-changer as well for the Rose-Hulman students. Alex Cochrane, a recent applied biology graduate, plans to return to Kenya through the Doctors Without Borders program after earning his medical degree.

Individuals stand at front of room with computers and present to individuals
Learning Experiences: Senior mechanical engineering Chris Taylor joins other Rose-Hulman students in listening to agricultural engineering project presentations at Kenya's Egerton University. This particular project was about designing and building a microprocessor controlled chicken egg hatchery. (Photo by Bryan Correll)

"Kenya is a magical place, and a wild, developing, historical, and beautiful land," states the 2013 John T. Royce Award winner (for campus involvement). "The world is no longer separated by country or continent thanks to the advents of mass information sharing, cellular technology, and travel. It is our responsibility as budding engineers, scientists, and humanitarians to gain as much knowledge as possible-a feat only achievable through direct contact with these places."

Other lasting memories came from a visit to Egerton University, where they observed students' fifth-year "capstone" project presentations. These projects created an efficient system for pumping water to higher elevations, controlled chicken egg incubation, and increased the drying time of harvested crops. Each provided a cost-effective solution with materials that were relatively easy to obtain.

In addition, within 17 days the group visited three universities, two high schools, many wildlife reserves and conservancies, museums, major geographical features (including Lake Victoria and the Menengai Crater), and camped at the well-known Maasai Mara-a typical, over-stuffed Rose-Hulman schedule.

"Our students can only benefit from more programs like this one," says Kukral.