Unsung Heroes: Falmouth engineers look beyond borders

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FALMOUTH — Most young men in their twenties spend their limited vacation time in the pursuit of carefree pleasure, happy to be away from the work grind.

Not Shanta Keller. This project engineer, who works at T.Y. Lin International, has spent his last few vacations working to provide potable water for the rural village of Dorgobom in Ghana.

Many seasoned professionals spend all their spare time with their families or in leisure pursuits.

Not Kathy Kern. This senior project manager for Lin puts her energies to work promoting and enlisting support for the Portland Chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

Keller and Kern were two of the prime movers behind the establishment of the area professional chapter of EWB in 2010.

Keller had experience with a student chapter of the national organization when he was a civil engineering student at the University of Vermont. Kern became excited about EWB from talking to Nadia Gluckberg, a project manager/senior hydrogeologist at Haley & Aldrich, who had been involved with the organization in another state. Gluckberg was also a co-founder of the Portland chapter.

EWB-USA, the national organization that was founded in 2002, “supports community-driven development programs worldwide by collaborating with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects, while creating transformative experiences and responsible leaders.”

It oversees 200 campus-based chapters, such as the one at the University of Maine at Orono, and 100 professional-based chapters, such as EWB Portland Maine.

In addition to assisting with overseas projects, like the Dorgobom project, EWB Portland Maine has been active in greater Portland through its ongoing partnership with science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, programs in southern Maine schools. The program introduces students to EWB Portland Maine’s project and engineering concepts. Professional chapter members also mentor students at the UMaine chapter.

The EWB Portland Maine Chapter has also assisted Portland Adult Education in helping immigrant and refugee engineers determine any training and/or certification requirements that might be necessary in order to obtain engineering-related jobs in Maine.

EWB-USA selected the Portland chapter as its Premier Professional Chapter for 2013 – a singular honor, because the chapter is relatively new and has only about 20 members. Kern was quick to credit the other members, noting that, “It’s amazing what they get done.”

EWB Portland Maine recently announced plans to team with the Portland, Ore., chapter to work on a school and sanitation project in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia. The project team recently returned from its first trip to Ethiopia.

Keller admitted the chance to travel and learn about other cultures first sparked his interest in Engineers Without Borders. But his motivation has since deepened.

“I still like the cultural aspect, but it also feels good to give back,” he said. “And it’s an interesting challenge to work on projects where you have to work with the available materials.”

Kern said she is passionate about the chapter’s main mission, improving lives in developing countries.

“I don’t choose to go on our overseas projects, but I support them,” she said. “I choked up when I saw the video of the people of Dorgobom lined up to get their first taste of fresh drinking water.”

Sidebar Elements

Shanta Keller, left, and Kathy Kern at the T.Y. Lin International office in Falmouth. They are active members of Engineers Without Borders.

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net.