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President's Blog: From the Heart

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A Glimpse of God

By Eric F. Spina

We take walking for granted, but graduating mechanical engineering students Ellen Lucchesi and Michael Fornadel will walk down the aisle at winter commencement with a much better appreciation for this simple act than most of us will ever have.

Indeed, Ellen and Michael will have already used their UD education to help others walk again.

“When I saw a child playing soccer with her new leg, it was truly a glimpse of God,” Ellen told University of Dayton trustees during the fall Board meeting after they viewed a powerful documentary about the students’ eye-opening experience in La Paz, Bolivia.

You could have heard a pin drop in the room. Ellen’s story was that mesmerizing.

Surrounded by breathtaking views of the Andes Mountains, Ellen and Michael spent 10 weeks in La Paz, a vibrant Latin American city. But this was not a vacation. They worked with Funprobo, an organization that makes low-cost prosthetics for amputees unable to afford more advanced solutions. In the process of providing new legs — and new hope — to patients, Ellen and Michael found their own lives transformed.

The documentary introduced us to Victor Rocha, who was despondent after he lost his leg. Working with the Funprobo team, which has served nearly 500 patients in the past decade, Ellen and Michael helped to create a lifelike leg with a mechanical knee that locked, an improvement over other commonly used prosthetics. In a heartwarming moment, we see Victor, using crutches, walk past a colorful mural in a La Paz neighborhood.

“I don’t think I could have gotten any better hands-on learning experience. The 10 weeks I spent at the clinic gave me lifelong friendships and a worldly perspective. It was a profound learning experience for me,” Ellen told the trustees.

“If you have a chance to make something better, why would you not share that?” asked Michael in the documentary. “Why would you not try to make the world a better place?”

That’s the transformative power of the ETHOS Center in the School of Engineering, which provides students with international and domestic immersion experiences that change their lives as they use their technical know-how and community-building skills to improve the quality of life for others.

Over the past 18 years the ETHOS (Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service Learning) program proudly claims 500 alumni from the School of Engineering and other academic disciplines throughout the University. Students have worked on scores of projects in 20 countries on four continents. This year, their work included designing and implementing ways to stop erosion on roads in rural Malawi and developing a rain garden bed for an urban farm in Dayton.

When students use their University of Dayton education to make someone’s life better, they serve the common good, a cornerstone of the Marianist charism that animates our University. They learn to think creatively, work collaboratively — and find purpose and passion in work that creates a better future for all.

That’s a gift to the world.

(View the ETHOS documentary.)