Fresno State students take engineering, English skills to Cambodia

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Fresno State students take engineering, English skills to Cambodia

Eight California State University, Fresno students who decided to make a difference in the world, traveled half way around the globe to accomplish that.

They gave up their winter break from classes and skipped Christmas and New Year’s festivities to travel to Cambodia to teach.

For about three weeks, the members of the new Engineers Without Borders student chapter at Fresno State taught courses on civil engineering and the printed circuit board. They also taught English and résumé building. The classes enrolled about 25 students, except for the English courses which, drew 50 to 60 students in each.

Engineers without Borders is a national organization that helps build homes and technology in Third World countries.

In Cambodia, the Fresno State students found a small, developing country in need of engineers and technical education. They also found people who valued education. Poor educational opportunities and poverty are the legacy of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who killed a quarter of the country’s population during his rule.

“It was amazing to see how many people were interested in learning English,” said Harim Martinez, a civil engineering student from Fresno.

Tim Schellenberg, an electrical engineering major from Fresno, first traveled to Cambodia in 2002, and again in 2005, to teach English. In 2006, he attended an intensive language study program sponsored by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which organized a two-month trip to Cambodia. There Schellenberg wrote a research paper on electrical engineering in Cambodia.

In researching the country’s schools, he found the National Teacher Training Institute (NTTI) in the capital, Phnom Penh. Schellenberg made e-mail contacts there, but it wasn’t until Engineers Without Borders visited Fresno State last spring that he decided he wanted to return to Cambodia.

He approached College of Engineering Dean Michael Jenkins for suggestions. Jenkins recommended Engineers Without Borders.

“I had worked with EWB in the past and knew this was exactly what Tim was looking for,” said Jenkins.

Schellenberg spearheaded formation of a chapter and was elected its president. He decided that in addition to a focus of building homes and improving technology for the Cambodians, he wanted to teach engineering to students and teachers, so they could build as well.

“Ever since I visited NTTI for the first time, I wanted to do something to help them, but it wasn’t until after that event on campus last spring that I thought of getting my fellow students involved,” said Schellenberg.

The students’ plans for the trip included how to raise $15,000 in airfare. They received scholarships and grants from the Office of International Programs at Fresno State, the Institute of Electrical Engineering, and area businesses, including FreshKo.

The students who made the trip were civil engineering major Akara Tan and Bao Xiong, electrical engineering majors Beatrice Prieto and Thanh Bui, political science major Navy San and health science major Thomas Ngo. All are from Fresno except Ngo, who is from Modesto.

“The goal of this project is not just to benefit Cambodian engineering students, but to give students here a chance to think about their role as global citizens,” Schellenberg said. “And also to let other Fresno State students hear about out trip and perhaps think of ways that they can get involved.”

Following the lead of the Fresno State contingent, students at University of California, Merced are planning a similar trip, Schellenberg said.

For more information, e-mail ewb.csuf@gmail.com.