The Simpson Strong-Tie Excellence in Engineering Fellowship, A Grateful Adventure

Before starting my fellowship, a year seemed like a very long time to be away from my day-to-day life, my clients, and my comfort zone. I started with many questions about how I could support the Build Change team to make the biggest possible impact with this fellowship. Once I started, however, I found more than a great team; I found a family. I would like to start this blog by praising the support of every member of the teams that I worked with, including the Build Change headquarters staff, as well as the staffs of the programs in Colombia and the Philippines. 

With the staff of Build Change’s office in Colombia

Convincing people of something that is invisible, such as the risk of living in a potentially unsafe house, is like swimming upstream. Sometimes it’s hard to see the returns on all your invested effort. However, one of the immediate benefits that Build Change provides to homeowners is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their families will be safe during an earthquake. Helping homeowners and their families stay optimistic about the future is real proof of resilience; this is the extraordinary quality we want to create in the houses Build Change constructs.  

Frustration is inevitable when you are creating social change, and this frustration requires constant injections of hope from Build Change’s leadership, both at the local and international levels. When you see the scope of the crisis of informal housing, it’s easy to become despondent.  But there’s a lot to be optimistic about. 

A moment of relaxation with Dr. Elizabeth Hausler, Founder & CEO of Build Change, and the team in the Philippines.

Before starting this adventure, my business was centered purely on the structure of buildings. Even if those buildings were designed for a particular purpose, such as schools in isolated regions of the country, I never directly got to know the people I impacted with my job. I will miss Build Change because it gave me an opportunity to meet homeowners and learn about their needs, desires, and limitations. I will miss this personal connection with the people I was working to help. Although the support I provided was mostly related to the development of technical resources, in the end, a family will be the beneficiary of my efforts.

My fellowship experience was completely positive; I had the chance to meet great people, travel, and do work I love while helping communities improve their houses. In Colombia, I played an essential role in the development of the new manual to guide the assessment and retrofitting of informal houses. This document was submitted to Colombia’s Seismic Engineering Society for approval. I also helped the Colombia Build Change team create a new set of construction drawings according to the updated manual, as well as construction specifications to be used by the Ministry of Housing in Colombia in the “Casa Digna, Vida Digna” (Decent House, Decent Life) program. This program aims to make 600,000 resilient home improvements by 2022. 

In the Philippines, I was involved in the development of a technical platform for the assessment and the retrofitting of houses using Fieldsight. The goal of this mobile application is to enable Build Change’s microfinance partners to quickly assess the potential of one-story unreinforced masonry houses for retrofitting. This information helps the microfinance partners determine their loan approvals. It was an exciting challenge, requiring a lot of creativity and XLS programming, to develop user-friendly yet powerful forms that could generate solutions consistent with reality.

Before I wrap up, I want to offer my sincere thanks to Simpson Strong-Tie for connecting me to Build Change and making this experience possible. Your collaboration and support have been immeasurable.  

For the next fellow, I hope you have an experience as fantastic as I did. This is a perfect opportunity to use engineering knowledge for the good of people that need it. Enjoy every moment. Unleash your creativity to find new and better solutions, and reach into your humanity to connect with the people who live in the homes you build.