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Engineering 360°

Alumni put careers on hold for service work

Stock photo of passport and map showing Sierra Leone

Photos by Photographs submitted

Two graduates from the Statler College decided to put their professional engineering careers on hold in hopes of transforming the lives of people residing in remote villages in Sierra Leone, Africa.

Matthew Asher, a 2015 mechanical engineering graduate and Toledo, Ohio, native, left his job and life in the United States behind to work in Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone, as a project engineer for UB Global. The religious nonprofit organization formerly known as Global Ministries, promotes volunteer outreach opportunities aimed at improving the quality of life for individuals in developing countries.

Asher has been working with villagers to create new and improved electricity and water systems that have the ability to generate income for a struggling hospital in the area. He reached a major milestone in the project by launching the Sola Wata Water Packaging Center, or WPC, the region’s first water treatment, packaging and distribution center. 

Kolar and Asher at work

In early September, fellow Statler College alumnus Lizzy Kolar decided to take a three-month sabbatical from her job at GE Transportation to assist Asher with his engineering project in Sierra Leone. 

“I chose to study engineering right outside of high school because my goal was to work with Engineers Without Borders, a group that could combine my interests in math and physics with my desire to spend my life doing volunteer work in underprivileged areas,” said Kolar, a 2015 mechanical engineering graduate from Morgantown.

“When Matthew told me about his project I knew it was an opportunity too good to pass up.” Kolar has formulated a business plan for the WPC and will be working with the center’s employees to implement standard work procedures, marketing strategies and data management systems in order to maximize production efficiency and profitability.

With Kolar’s assistance, Asher plans to move on to the next phase of the project: installation of a solar-powered system that will run the hospital’s lights and surgical equipment. This is expected to significantly reduce the hospital’s operational costs. They also plan to install a mini-solar grid that will allow the hospital to sell metered power to residents within the village who currently live with limited or no access to electricity.