Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

¿Cachai? It means, Do you get it?, or Do you understand? A phrase often used with foreigners, who quite often, don’t understand, as our Engineers and Scientists Abroad group found out. The Spanish in Chile is different than many other Spanish-speaking countries, full of abbreviations, run-together words, and slang. Nevertheless it was beautiful, as is the culture of Chile, as our Engineers and Scientists Abroad chapter learned after a recent service trip to Chile, during which we provided infrastructure improvements to the Vocations for Orphans nonprofit and learned to somewhat understand the culture of this beautiful country.


The Location

Casa Montaña is located in the Valle de Elqui (Elqui Valley) in the Coquimbo region of Chile. The economy of the area is predominantly agriculture-based, with grapes, lemons, wine and a local liquor called pisco being major products in the area. The project site was nestled up in the gorgeous Andes Mountains, about 12 miles away from the small town of Vicuña.

Casa Montana

Casa Montaña (R. Beck 2015)


The Team

Six engineering students from the South Dakota School of Mines volunteered their time and expertise to making the trip a success. Each student was able to bring valuable skills and expertise to the project team.


Enjoying some empanadas (small pastries stuffed with a savory filling) (A. Schifres 2015)

From left to right:

Sawyer – Mechanical engineering

Colby – Mechanical Engineering

Andrew – Civil Engineering

Gary – Geological Engineering and Mechanical Engineering

Rika – Environmental and Chemical Engineering

Alexis – Chemical Engineering


The Tasks

1. Pour a concrete pad for a water storage tank.


Colby with the freshly-poured concrete pad.

2. Install a water storage tank to increase the capacity of Vocation for Orphans Water System.

Installed Tank

Our installed tank. (A. Schifres, 2015)

 3. Build a retaining wall to protect the tank from erosion.

Retaining Wall

Tank with finished retaining wall. (C. Harris, 2015)

4. Remove and replace the water source intake.

Digging out intake

First, we diverted the water and dug out the old intake. (C. Harris, 2015)

 New intake pipe

Then, we installed the new intake pipe. (C. Harris 2015)

Finished intake

Finally, we covered the new pipe with gravel and larger rocks to protect it. (C. Harris, 2015)

5. Other tasks – the team took care of many other tasks on the project site, including:

         – Painting the source piping to protect it from the elements

- Changing the battery in the vehicle

-Winterizing buildings

Team photo

The team at the conclusion of the project! (Pictured with hosts Annette and Dale.)


The Culture

When all the hard work was done, we also got to experience Chilean culture with a trip to the nearby city of La Serena. We saw the sights, ate fresh seafood, empanadas, and papayas; and bought souvenirs at the local markets.

Chile Market

Artisanal market in La Serena (C. Harris 2015)

Chile lighthouse

Lighthouse of La Serena (R. Beck 2015)

Fish market

Fish market in the port of Coquimbo (C. Harris, 2015)


Port of Coquimbo (R. Beck, 2015)

What We Learned

Our project was enriching for the whole group. We gained valuable experience putting our engineering knowledge into use in the real world. We also got to appreciate the amazing culture and scenery of the country of Chile, while serving others other with our talents.


ESA acknowledges the time and talents of the project team, Dr. Thomas Fontaine, Dale Boe, and Annette Scifres; our partner nonprofit, Vocations for Orphans; and the financial support of Rotary International and IBM (Students for a Smarter Planet Grant).

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July 13th, 2014

Our team has now had one month to regroup, reflect, and relax back into our American lives. The intense experience that was our project in Mongolia has now come to a close, and we are thankful for its impact on our lives. Now we have a few thousand pictures to sift through and memories to laugh about. Thanks to all who helped with our success!

The Argylin Garam Bridge Project













The Team

The Team



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May 9th, 2014


The Engineers and Scientists Abroad of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology is making the final preparations for our travel to Chile! We are so excited to lend a helping hand to the Vacations for Orphans site to improve their way of life. There have been a few big changes over the last few weeks, however, so we have to be ready for new surprises.

Two weeks ago, the orphanage was broken into. Some solar panels, propane tanks, linens, and kitchenware was stolen. This is such unfortunate news, and it may set back the date the orphanage can take children. So now, the engineers-to-be will also be looking for ways to secure new devices to buildings in a more robust way. This is a huge sign that security needs to be enforced in the buildings before more work and technology is put into the facilities.

Another big change is that one of our team members is having some heath issues and can no longer travel with us. We are sad that Katelyn can’t come, but we wish her the best while we are away. We have to take care of ourselves in order to help others.

Tomorrow, we’ll support the graduating students of SDSM&T and see them walk across the stage. Then on Monday, we’ll take our luggage, brainpower, and helping hands to South America! Wish us well!

Thank you IBM for making this trip possible! Photos and summaries to come.

Cat, Trevor, Riley, Christian, and Chris

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May 8th, 2014

Hello once again, from what may be our last blog from the states. With less than a week left until we hop on a plane bound to Mongolia, we have encountered the challenge of packing. All the gear and equipment we have gathered over the last few months now has to be packed into a limited number of bags without exceeding the airline weight limit. So far all the bags are weighing out perfectly, even with all the heavy tools and hardware. As we pack we have been making frequent trips to buy last minute tools and personal items that we might need for the project. Overall the crew is staying strong through finals week as the anticipation grows to finally take off on our adventure. A successful finals week has left us full of excitement for our departure!

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This spring break gave 10 students the opportunity to complete projects in Bogota, Colombia and Lima, Peru! Here are a couple videos with some footage from each.

Bogota, Colombia

Rainwater Harvesting and Landslide Mitigation


Cieneguilla, Peru

Surveying and water resources infrastructure at the Wesfalia Kinderdorf Orphanage

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