In a place without clean drinking water, Stacey Renae Joy found her mission.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore had been working toward a degree in optometry but decided to change her major to engineering after seeing how few people had adequate drinking water in Guatemala.
"I wanted to be able to make a difference in situations like that," she said. "It just kind of broke my heart that people didn't have clean water."
On Saturday, Dec. 17, the 22-year-old from Vermillion graduated from UNL with a Bachelor of Science in biological systems engineering.
Inspired by her visit to Guatemala in summer 2008, Joy plans to continue working in Third World-type communities at home and abroad.
She was in Guatemala as part of Sharing the Dream, a Vermillion-based nonprofit that promotes fair trade with cooperatives and small businesses in Guatemala. The 10-day trip gave her a chance to visit Mayan artisans, as well as an orphanage and an elders' center, and exposed her to the extreme living conditions of people in the Third World.
"I just felt really called to do something about it," she said.
In summer 2010, she continued her tour of Third World communities. This time, however, she never left her home state. She worked for Indian Health Services, a federal agency that provides health care to Native people, in Pine Ridge. She surveyed land and helped decide whether homes or businesses on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation needed new septic tanks or wells.
She said nearly half of the Native people she encountered didn't have running water, and most lived in extreme poverty.
Dennis Schulte, a biological systems engineering professor at UNL, said Joy was one of a growing number of university students who travel abroad while studying.
"A lot of students today have a pretty deep desire to help other people, especially disadvantaged people from other countries," he said. I just think there's a tremendous amount of exposure (that students get) to the disadvantaged and the needs and the poverty that exist in other countries."
In late May and early June, Joy joined the UNL chapter of Engineers Without Borders for a three-week trip to Madagascar, where the group installed seven bio sand filters at five schools in Kianjavato, a town and commune on the country's east coast.
Bio sand filters are 3-foot-tall concrete pillars filled with sand and gravel and can filter as much as 100 liters of water every eight hours, Joy said.
She plans to return this spring with a UNL Engineers Without Borders team to install filters at two more schools, she said. Another UNL team will install solar-powered lights and ceiling fans at a school.
Libby Jones, a UNL civil engineering professor, traveled to Madagascar this summer with Joy.
"She steps in whenever there's something that needs to be done," Jones said of Joy. "It doesn't matter how difficult it is, how small it seems to be."
Joy has begun working on a master's degree at UNL in environmental engineering and expects to graduate in May 2013. After that, her future is uncertain, but she hopes to continue helping others through engineering.
"I want to go spend time in a developing nation," she said.
Reprinted with permission from the Lincoln (NE) Journal-Star