B2P Goes Back to Panama

Tara Hofferth '15 shares what she learned as both an engineer and a citizen of the world on Bridges to Prosperity's latest trip to Panama

B2P Panama
The Lehigh B2P students in Vaquilla, Panama, checking the progress survey a second bridge site in the rain.

Just past the Lura River is a school. Some 400 Panamanian children and their families must cross the river to go to and from school each day. Currently, there is a small, wobbly cable bridge providing access for these children. However, the lack of safety posed by the bridge is clear, and it would take just one big storm to wipe it out completely.

Lura and three other villages that neighbor the town of Penenome, Panama, welcomed four students Maria Cuenca '15, Sam Hau '16, Tara Hofferth '15, and Jason Sadler '18 this summer as part of a surveying trip with Lehigh University's Bridges to Prosperity organization. They were accompanied by Dr. Clay Naito, associate professor of structural engineering and the club's advisor.

The team visited four potential footbridge site locations and had the opportunity to speak with leaders and other members of each community. They gathered information and made measurements at each site as a preliminary step in the B2P project process.

Performing an Onsite Survey
To perform a survey for a B2P suspended footbridge, the team first investigated the area. Students asked locals about foot and car traffic, private property lines, and removing vegetation. They also identified two relatively flat raised areas across from each other that could potentially serve as tower locations.

The Lehigh team brought an auto level and complimentary measurement stick all the way from Fritz Lab to Penenome. Using the level and stick, various angles and heights were measured, and horizontal distances were then calculated. From these measurements, the team was able to get an outline of the river and the banks on either side, including a permanent benchmark to allow the process to be duplicated.

Growing as Engineers, Giving Back as People
All four students agreed that the experience was incredibly inspiring and humbling, as each community had a unique need and an enthusiastic determination. At each location, the team was greeted by curious children heading home after school or by families heading into town. The students realized the immense need for improved transportation in the rural areas outside of Penenome. They had a hand in initiating four potential B2P footbridge projects and thus began a process that will positively impact thousands of lives.

Additionally, the students returned to Lehigh's campus having had real surveying experience, having run calculations in their heads on site, having taken measurements and planned out a layout for a suspended footbridge, having cut away branches to make a clear view for the level, and having communicated with each other in a real-life working situation. The students returned better engineers and better global citizens.

If you'd like to donate to the Lehigh student chapter of Bridges to Prosperity and its students' efforts in Panama, click here.

By Tara Hofferth '15

Tara is a structural engineering at Louis Berger. She graduated in the spring of 2015 from Lehigh University, where she served as the project manager for Bridges to Prosperity.



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