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From Project Manager to Student Mentor: Supporting Bridges to Prosperity Around the Globe

From Project Manager to Student Mentor: Supporting Bridges to Prosperity Around the Globe

May 30, 2016

Authored by Erin Kitzmiller, a civil engineer in CH2M’s Denver office. In June 2015 she served as the volunteer project manager on the Bridges to Prosperity Gasura, Rwanda bridge build. That experience hooked her on B2P and she volunteered to mentor students from her alma mater, Penn State on a bridge build in Panama in June 2016.

A photo of the initial survey for the La Candelaria Bridge.

A photo of the initial survey for the La Candelaria Bridge.

The Penn State team arriving to La Candelaria. We will be staying in a schoolhouse!

The Penn State team arriving to La Candelaria. We will be staying in a schoolhouse!

One year ago I was responding to an email chain, going back and forth on scaffolding design with Mike from Milwaukee and Andrew from Calgary. I was not only preparing for my first build with B2P but also my first stab at being a project manager (PM), and I perpetually alternated between feelings of terror, thrill, and anticipation. First and foremost, I wanted everyone to be safe! Even though the team had prepared for months and we had a more-than-qualified Safety Manager, I still felt responsible for effectively and safely delivering the project.

After completing a 44 meter suspension bridge in Rwanda (watch the award-winning video) and taking with me thousands of lessons learned, I returned to the States two weeks later feeling like a new person. I could solve problems in different ways, and I had an entirely new perspective on the field of engineering. This not only helped to fill a void that I had been searching for in terms of my commitment to and passion for engineering, but it also served as a springboard for me to get more involved and continue to work with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P).

In one week (on June 3rd), I will be traveling to La Candelaria, Panama to mentor Penn State University students as they build a 54 meter suspended bridge. The students have worked hard over the past few months fully designing the bridge and preparing for their month-long stay in a rural village. The team left on May 11th, and they will have four weeks to complete the bridge.

My role will be much different this time around. Since I have experience on a B2P build, I have a greater perspective on the challenges presented and how an efficient team will operate. I plan to be a sounding board for the students as they innovate in the field and build the bridge according to the designs and drawings they know inside and out. I have good faith in the Penn State team; they are a very smart and dedicated group of individuals, and they are no strangers to the B2P process. Penn State has volunteered their efforts to two other suspended bridges in Panama, completing bridges in 2014 and 2015.

Erin at the Bridges to Prosperity Spring Mentor Training in Denver, Colorado.

Erin at the Bridges to Prosperity Spring Mentor Training in Denver, Colorado.

This year, I have different feelings and attitudes than I did last year. I am mostly excited to assist in connecting La Candelaria to its neighboring communities and provide them with access they did not previously possess. I am also beyond proud to support my alma mater and work alongside aspiring engineering students. I have a passion for mentoring and helping to coach the next generation of problem-solvers, and I hope that my engineering experience and continued training through B2P will serve them well in the field. One of the things that is different about this trip is that I will not have other CH2M colleagues with me; I am slightly nervous because I am on my own without CH2M’s safety net. However, I know that once I finally connect with two of the PSU students at the airport, my reservations will subside. Overall, I am looking to make a difference in the lives of the people in the community and serve as an engineering and safety resource for the students.

The motto for Penn State University’s Bridges to Prosperity Chapter is, “Empowering Today, Inspirando Mañana.” And that is exactly what I have set out to do.

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