University of Missouri-Rolla sophomore Jenna Tune is taking a spring break trip to Guatemala. Most college students don’t view Central America as a popular partying destination; but Tune isn’t going on spring break for the popular reasons.
Tune is representing UMR’s Women as Global Leaders class on the trip, which was organized by the Women’s Leadership Institute at UMR, the university’s geological engineering program and UMR’s Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience. The goal for the Guatemala trip is to prospect for cleaner water supplies, raise awareness about the importance of water quality, and to help improve the quality of life for women and children in the country.
"There are plenty of opportunities at UMR for women who want to get experience," says Tune, a psychology major from Rolla. "I didn’t expect to be helping people in Central America."
Tune will be joined on the trip by Katherine Thompson, a senior in electrical engineering from St. Louis. When they return from Guatemala, Tune and Thompson will share their experiences with classmates in the interdisciplinary Women as Global Leaders course, taught by Dr. Paula Lutz, dean of UMR’s College of Arts and Sciences.
"The class was started last fall for female students, and some of our goals are service learning and becoming aware of the challenges facing women around the world," Lutz says.
UMR is a technology-oriented campus. According to Cecilia Elmore, director of UMR’s Women’s Leadership Institute, it is a misconception that women do not enter the fields associated with math and science because they are underachievers in those disciplines.
"Studies show that women are more likely to participate in engineering and science if they are able to see that their work is directly helping others," Elmore says.
In Guatemala, a poor country about the size of Tennessee with a population of 14 million, there are 37 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 4.6 children born per female.
"We think water quality has a direct impact on infant mortality," says Elmore, who’s been to the country several times. "If we educate the population, some babies may live because of our work."
Elmore’s husband, Dr. Curt Elmore, an assistant professor of geological engineering at UMR, has been on at least 12 trips to Guatemala. He says UMR faculty and students help manage well drilling in the country.
"Through student-led classes we’ve installed a well at an orphanage and we’ve raised thousands of dollars to install another well at a free health clinic," Curt Elmore says.
Faculty members from UMR’s civil engineering department are also helping to organize an Engineers Without Borders chapter on campus to provide extra-curricular projects in Guatemala and other countries for UMR students.
This spring, a total of nine UMR students will travel to Guatemala with faculty and staff. While other students manage well concerns, Tune and Thompson plan to conduct a water-use survey and evaluate gender roles in the village of Camanchaj.
Tune volunteered to go on the trip, which is being underwritten by UMR’s Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience. She also volunteered for a trip to do biology research in the Bahamas this summer, and she’s considering changing her major to biology.
"If you stay open-minded, you will probably come out of college a completely changed person," Tune says.