Engineering Student Finds Spirit of Service in El Salvador

Jennifer Rodriguez ’13 knew she was involved in something special when her Salvadoran students found her on a day off. “When I saw the students at the door asking for help with their English and math lessons,” Rodriguez said, “I realized that they really wanted the help and that they appreciated me.”

Rodriguez, a civil engineering major at Loyola Marymount University, has made three service-related trips to Isla El Espíritu Santo in El Salvador. In this isolated community, she has taught in the local school, and helped design and implement a project to bring safe drinking water to the area.

For the water project, which Rodriguez detailed in last spring’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, she tested samples from wells on the island for contaminants and bacteria such as E. coli. Once that was done, she provided table-top filters for 28 families who were participating in workshops, installed the necessary piping and a new water pump, and set up an ultraviolet purification unit for the island’s only school.

Rodriguez grew up in Los Angeles, and was introduced to LMU through a summer outreach program at the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. She’s learned how abstract scientific concepts can be translated into real-world results and effect lasting social change. “I got into civil engineering because of the closeness to people,” she said.

Her first trip to Isla El Espíritu Santo was in 2011, with the service group Ignacio Companions. It was then that Rodriguez and three other LMU engineering students began the work to put the water project into action. But that didn’t feel like enough. On the way home, Rodriguez said to herself, “I need to go back.” She’s since returned twice, to help with the water service and teach English and math.

Rodriguez is humble about the help she’s provided, noting that much more can still be done for the community. But it’s been a lesson for her as well. “We were inspired to help, and we learned that service should be working together to solve a problem,” she said.