As an undergraduate Hanssen majored in fine arts and began to pursue a dual degree with Digital Media Design, but found the joint natural science requirements a bit daunting. Hanssen flourished as a painter and was admitted to an MFA program, but found that it didn’t suit his interests. “I guess the engineer in me wanted the process and product to be more robust and practical,” he says. “I also wanted to feel more of a connection with my peers.” So Hanssen left art school and began exploring other options. He took a job in construction management, which satisfied his practical nature, but not the creative and compassionate aspects of his personality. One day a friend from Penn called and asked if he would come to Songea, Tanzania, for two weeks to provide construction advice on a project run by Miracle Corners of the World (MCW), an international non-profit devoted to youth education and global community development.
“The trip offered everything I was looking for,” he says. “It was an amazing cause coupled with construction and project management work, and I could work with an incredibly diverse team of people while immersing myself in a new language and culture.” When he returned to Philadelphia, Hanssen realized his desk job could never provide such opportunities, so he quit and moved to Songea to lead the project.
Southern Tanzania is beautiful but challenging: many villages are so remote that basic health and educational needs cannot be met. Identifying the most immediate problems and focusing on specific and participatory solutions requires a critical eye and the ability work with a wide variety of people.
Hanssen began working locally to help community stakeholders envision solutions that were viable and economically sustainable. He led laborers and volunteers through the project’s construction. “In four months, we built a multi-functional community center, a stateof-the-art dental clinic, and staff housing. The community center houses a library, English language classes, information technology classes, a pre-school program, and a youth group. The programs are entirely youth led and 100% of the construction materials and labor came from Songea, providing a huge boost to the local economy,” he says.
Credit: Penn Engineering Magazine, “Enlightened Engineers,” by Amy Calhoun.
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For information about Miracle Corners of the World and its ties to Philadelphia and Penn, please visit their website at http://www.miraclecorners.org.