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Olympic College engineering students building bridges at home

Volunteers Tex Lewis and Doug Ludwig help Olympic College Running Start student Daniel Hnatovic install hand railings Wednesday on a new Clear Creek Trail bridge.  - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Volunteers Tex Lewis and Doug Ludwig help Olympic College Running Start student Daniel Hnatovic install hand railings Wednesday on a new Clear Creek Trail bridge.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

When members of Olympic College’s Engineers Without Borders completed a 50-foot bridge on the north end of the Clear Creek Trail this week, it was a sign of bigger things to come for the budding engineering community at the school.

The foot bridge, which was three years in the making, was the first major project completed by the group of aspiring engineers, some of whom are now enrolled in the new four-year Washington State University mechanical engineering program, which began its classes last week.

For Kevin Alexander, an Allyn resident who acted as project manager for the bridge and just began coursework in the four-year engineering program, Engineers Without Borders is a supplement to students’ engineering education.

“We can take that experience and carry that with us when we graduate from school,” he said.

Engineers Without Borders is a non-profit service organization with chapters across the U.S. and internationally that work with developing communities to help build and implement small-scale projects that address issues such as clean water access, sanitation or renewable energy. In this case, Olympic College’s chapter started in its own backyard, having helped design and construct the bridge spanning a branch of Clear Creek near the Petersen Farm. The group was recruited for the project by Tex Lewis, volunteer with the Clear Creek Task Force.

Jeff Brown, engineering instructor at Olympic College and Engineers Without Borders’ faculty adviser, said members worked with professional engineers in the community and mentors at the Kitsap branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers to learn about design, wetland mitigation and permitting.

Brown said the high student turnover at the two-year school prevents the group from planning long-range projects abroad. Until this year, most engineering students at Olympic College would transfer to the University of Washington or Washington State University.

But Brown and Alexander both hope that the arrival of the Washington State engineering program in Bremerton will stabilize the group’s membership and enable possible expansion. By the end of the spring quarter, the group had about 12 regulars.

“I’m hoping that with a new year at O.C., we’ll get some new members,” Alexander said, adding that new talent can bring in fresh ideas and help get out in the community to find projects.

Daniel Hnatovic, a Running Start student at Olympic College who homeschools in Port Orchard, has been in Engineers Without Borders for almost a year and plans to participate for another two years before he transfers to University of Washington to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering. He put the finishing touches on the foot bridge Wednesday, installing the hand rails with Lewis and project volunteer Doug Ludwig.

“I enjoyed being a part of it,” said Hnatovic, who said his participation will look good on his resume.

Brown said Engineers Without Borders connects members with communities in need as they improve their own talents that will help them in the professional world. And now, with their first major project behind them, the group is well on its way to doing greater things.

“The students have really persevered,” Brown said. “I’m like a proud daddy.”

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