Engineering skills used for a good cause

It turns out that the qualities that make good engineers also make good citizens. Teamwork, problem solving, and risk-taking skills—all essential qualities in the world of engineering—were put to the test in April by a group of agricultural and biological engineering students. The challenge for the eight-member team? Clean up a West Lafayette yard in three hours.

The students, representing the Purdue chapter of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), were among 1,300 undergraduates who volunteered to give back to the community during the University’s annual Boiler Blast. The event matches student volunteers with area residents in need of yard work, painting, window washing, and other chores.

The ASABE group was assigned to clear ivy and bushes away from a small house in a quiet neighborhood north of the football stadium. The residence, home to an 81-year-old woman, had been overgrown for years. Bushes stretched up to the eaves and surrounded three sides of the structure, blocking windows and nearly obscuring the house.

Small house, yes; but no small job. Time to call on engineering skills. First, problem solving and strategy, next, teamwork, and then risk taking. Seniors Derek Hastings and Alex Mehl operated the chain saw. Like several others in the group, they grew up on farms and are no strangers to physical labor. They did, however, say they were a bit daunted when they got to the job site and saw the mass of vegetation covering the house. Teamwork made things go quickly.

“We do a lot of group work and projects in school, but it’s fun to get out and do physical labor together and get dirty,” he said, as he handed a large branch off to Jacob Oswalt.

Oswalt, who joined a grain-processing corporation in Iowa after graduation, dragged the branch out to the curb, adding it to an enormous pile of brush. Nearby, senior Victoria DeStazio, who will spend part of the summer on a senior design project in Ghana, raked up leaves and grass. (See story on facing page.)

“This is great,” she said. “I feel as a school that we are only as good as our community, so we are giving back to Lafayette and West Lafayette.”

By noon, an extreme makeover had occurred at the small house on Oakhurst Street.

As the group took a final pass through the yard, the elderly home-owner slowly opened her front door and stepped onto the porch to a newly transformed world. Her huge grin and look of astonishment was a payoff as big as the brush pile on the curb. “It’s a good thing to do, to give back to the community,” said Oswalt. “When someone can benefit from a helping hand, it is always good.”