Kristina Baltazar in Ghana
Team members Jeseth, Kristina, Kim, and Matt with Sub-Chief of Patriensa, Ghana in front of the hydraulic system they designed and built for the African village.

Aerospace engineering senior Kristina Baltazar put her engineering and leadership skills to good use when she became the project manager on a team that designed a water system to bring filtered, potable water to the people of Patriensa, Ghana. In addition to the water system, the team designed a generator and septic system for the village.

Baltazar spent a full year preparing for her trip to Ghana. She became aware of the opportunity when she saw a flyer promoting the Cockrell School’s Projects for Underserved Communities (PUC) courses.

Projects for Underserved Communities is an innovative new project-based learning curriculum designed to match engineering students with communities overseas in need of the skills and resources that UT engineers can provide. This two-course sequence permits engineering students to work on international projects to directly benefit underserved communities.

Projects are multidisciplinary and include aerospace, mechanical, electrical, civil, chemical and biomedical engineering. Students enrolled in the PUC classes oversee the project process from initial site selection to fund-raising to planning to completion. The project involves three phases: project assessment, concept selection and design and implementation.

One of 20 students chosen to work on the 2011-2012 projects, Baltazar was also selected to be the project manager of her five-person team.

During the year, the team worked hard to fund their project. They presented to the Cockrell School of Engineering Advisory Board (EAB) and wrote many grant proposals. Their hard work paid off when they received a grant from Afren Plc., an African oil company.

Baltazar first traveled to Ghana for nine days during spring break where she surveyed the area to see what conditions were present. She also began building connections with the local people.

"One of our biggest challenges was determining available resources in the village as there were no local engineers for us to communicate with,” she said.

In May, the entire team traveled to Ghana to implement the system and oversee the construction. Baltazar said her aerospace engineering design background gave her ability to tackle the building process.

“We design a lot in aerospace,” she said. “I was able to incorporate the design skills that I learned from aerospace coursework into the septic system that I helped design.”

In addition to the engineering and leadership components, Baltazar experienced cultural immersion during her time spent in Ghana.

“I learned Twi, the language of Ghana and by the last day, I was having conversations with the villagers in their native language,” Baltazar said. “I had the fortunate opportunity to build meaningful relationships during my experience abroad.”

After graduating in May, Baltazar plans to join the Leadership Development Program for Engineering at Textron. She credits her experience with PUC for making her a stronger and more effective leader.

“Working with PUC was very beneficial,” Baltazar said. “I experienced real life engineering pressure and deadlines. We presented to CEOs for funding. I managed four other people during this project and I was also responsible for our budget and timelines. I learned how to do it all.”

Overall, Baltazar believes this once in a lifetime opportunity has positively shaped her college career in a memorable way.

“It’s definitely an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life – it taught me how to become a better leader,” she said. “This project was actually something that affected people’s lives. I had the opportunity to go to a third world country and help others while still in college. At the end of the day, we got to make their lives a little better.”