Engineering students building hope through bridge construction

Author: William G. Gilroy

ND SEED students

“Building Bridges-Building Hope” is the motto of an innovative program in the University of Notre Dame’s College of Engineering that enables undergraduate students to use the knowledge they have gained to benefit residents of impoverished countries.

Now in its third year of operation, ND SEED (Notre Dame Students Empowering through Engineering Development) connects rural communities stricken with poverty to greater opportunities through cooperative design and construction of footbridges that span otherwise impassible rivers. Tracy L. Kijewski-Correa, associate professor and Leo and Patti Ruth Linbeck College Chair in the Department of Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences, serves as advisor for the program.

This year’s project is centered on San Francisco, a river crossing north of the city of Esteli, Nicaragua. The crossing serves seven communities with a population of roughly 1,000. During the rainy season, the river runs deep and swift, making the crossing nearly impassable.

San Fransisco, Esteli, Nicaragua

As a result, villagers are denied access to marketplaces, health care and schooling for their children. The aim of this year’s ND SEED undertaking is to construct a bridge crossing the river.

The process began during the University’s fall break last year when the engineering students participating in the project made a site visit to San Francisco, Nicaragua. The visit occurred during especially heavy rains and the students discovered that the community where they will build the bridge was isolated for a week from food, medicine and other necessities.

The students were able to meet with the mayor of San Francisco and gained his assurance that members of the local community would assist in the construction of the bridge, which is one of the aims of the program. The group was also able to locate local sources for the bulk of materials needed for the bridge building effort.

During the current spring semester, the students are concentrating on raising the funds necessary to complete the project. It takes an estimated $20,000 to construct the ND SEED bridges and although there is a support structure within Notre Dame among interested faculty and administrators, the team members must raise the necessary funds themselves.

ND SEED students

Immediately following final exams at Notre Dame, the ND SEED group will depart for San Francisco and spend the next six weeks constructing the bridge. They will work alongside the villagers, putting in 12-hour days and sleeping under mosquito netting at night.

The project will require students to overcome several unique engineering challenges. The river does not have steep banks, so high towers will need to be built on each bank to keep the deck of the bridge above the level waters at the highest flood stage. Also, walls will need to be constructed to prevent erosion and protect the towers.

ND SEED was formed in partnership with the non-profit organization Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), a volunteer-based charity that seeks to empower poor, rural African, Asian and Latin American communities through footbridge building.

Those wishing to support ND SEED can visit

Contact: Tracy L. Kijewski-Correa, 574-631-2980,

Originally published by William G. Gilroy at on January 27, 2012.