By Ian Smith, The Daily Iowan 
Last year, the small Zambian village of Libuyu needed a bridge in order to access the only school in the area without having to walk several miles around a dangerous river.
But they didn’t have the resources. And when a group of students from the University of Washington backed out at the last minute, five engineering students from the University of Iowa stepped in.
This Thanksgiving, the same five students are going to Nicaragua to help another village.
“It’s always been something that I wanted to do,” said UI senior Lora Buckman. “I really enjoy putting civil engineering into practice.”
UI seniors David Crawford, Buckman, Ross Johnson, Thomas Bang, and Luke Smith are planning a Nov. 21 trip to Ciudad Sandino in Nicaragua.
In a week, they will assess a location that needs a 40-meter-long bridge that will service approximately 5,000 people. They will draft designs upon their return, and they plan to go back in June to build the bridge.
This will be the third bridge project for the organization Continental Crossings, the second for this specific group of students. A different group of UI students built a bridge in Peru in 2006 as part of a senior project.
The bridge designs for Zambia were mostly complete by the time the UI students got involved last year — all the group had to do was fly out and help construction with the local community of Zambia.
But this time around, they’ll start from scratch.
Smith said he felt this year’s project was different because they were leading it.
“[We are] part of the entire process from beginning to end,” Smith said.
Of the approximately $16,000 the project will cost, a little more than half will cover the bridge’s materials and construction — the rest is travel expenses.
So far Continental Crossings has raised a little more than $4,500. The trip is only is only funded through donations, Crawford said.
Though Continental Crossings is a student-run organization, it has no affiliation with the UI. Johnson said Associate Research Scientist Craig Just has been a big help in trying to turn the organization into a yearly UI program.
The major benefit of affiliating Continental Crossings with the university would be help with funding, Johnson said.
The team is trying to establish a connection with the UI and the group Engineers Without Borders, but it requires activity in one place for five years to become a university program, Just said. Because Continental Crossings works all over the globe, it doesn’t fit the criteria.
“It is a pretty complicated issue to be a UI program,” he said.
A part from his encouragement, Just said he doesn’t play a major role in the organization.
“It’s a complicated role, and certainly I’m a cheerleader,” Just said.
As they prepare to leave in less than a month, Bang said they look forward to the work.
“Most of it is it’s just a really great experience,” he said. “And to get the hands-on work and see what you’ve studied actually being built."