Engineers Without Borders team brings new light to Ethiopia

Members of WUSTL’s Engineers Without Borders chapter continued their service to the Mekele Blind School in Ethiopia by helping to upgrade its electrical system over the semester break.

Maeve Woeltje and a team of Engineering students and faculty traveled to Ethiopia to improve the electrical system at the Mekele Blind School.

WashU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter has been working with the school for several years helping it to meet its most pressing needs. On this two-week trip, the five undergraduate students, one graduate student and two faculty members upgraded the electrical system to improve the cooking methods and added outdoor lighting for safety and security.

Maeve Woeltje, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering and one of the co-leaders of the trip, said the school’s electrical system had old wiring and did not provide enough power for its needs. The residential school, which serves about 100 students, was using just two stoves to cook 200 pieces of injera bread every day because they did not have enough power to operate a third stove. In addition, they were unable to use two additional cooking stoves for other foods because they did not have enough electricity for them, so they were using wood-burning stoves indoors, which creates unhealthy air quality. In addition to installing new circuit breakers, the team made plans for a new electric meter to be installed that will provide enough power for the school’s staff to use all of the electric cooking stoves.

Previously, the group constructed a new water tower to hold water from the local borehole and installed pipes and pumps to carry the water from the well to the points of use.

The rest of the team included Josh Landman, a freshman majoring in systems engineering and computer science; Alex Francisci, a senior majoring in computer science and electrical engineering; Luke Kirchner, a junior majoring in electrical engineering; Ryan Blumenstein, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering; Adam Kuchy, a graduate student in construction management; Dennis Mell, professor of practice; and Robin Shepard, adjunct instructor in energy, environmental & chemical engineering.

Funding for the project came from the Gephardt Institute for Public Service, School of Engineering & Applied Science departments and other grants and donations from fundraisers.


The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 82 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 700 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.