By the time he reached his teens, Daniel Blood ’10, Ph.D., had an intimate understanding of the value of American goodwill in the poorest parts of the world.
Now, as a member of the College of Engineering faculty, Professor Blood helps a new generation of students learn how their knowledge and skills can enrich the lives of the less fortunate and bring the University’s spirit of service around the globe.
“Dan continually seeks to provide meaningful international service-learning opportunities for our students,” says Eric W. Johnson ’87, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering. “He is a great role model because he is very entrepreneurial, and he’s passionate about finding engineering solutions for those in need using low-cost alternatives.”
An assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Professor Blood recently returned from a trip to Les Cayes in southwestern Haiti. There, he and a team of Valpo students helped implement a solar-powered system to bring potable water closer to a center for children and young adults.
He made his first trip at 16 to help his father, Dr. Michael Blood, a family practice physician from Crawfordsville, Ind., tend to patients there, and he’s returned frequently throughout the past dozen years.
“It all started when my parents met someone in town who went to Haiti with their church,” Professor Blood says. “They encountered many people with medical problems and thought maybe my dad should check it out.
“He was overwhelmed. At first he saw about 90 patients. Then it got to the point where they made two trips a year and he saw 1,000 to 4,000 people every time he went down.”
That sense of service continued when Professor Blood began his undergraduate studies at Valpo. With the University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, he traveled to Kenya and Tanzania, where projects mainly focused on improving access to clean water.
“Students have a real drive to help people and personally, that’s motivating,” he says. “I knew if I could come back, I’d have a lot of opportunities to help people.”
After graduating from Valpo in 2010, Professor Blood earned his master’s and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida. He says he accelerated his courses to complete his studies after learning his alma mater would have an opening before the 2013–2014 academic year.
“Once I knew I wanted to teach, Valpo was really kind of a dream job. It’s been absolutely fantastic,” he says.
And that dream continues to make a difference in Les Cayes, where Pwoje Espwa (Creole for “Project Hope”) houses more than 400 children and young adults. Some are orphans, while many more have lost a parent or have parents who cannot care for them. Far too often, children without parents end up on the streets or as domestic workers in the western hemisphere’s poorest country.
The Haitian students have been quick studies in past trips, one of which saw the Valpo party bring a 3-D printer to a technical school, which had many immediate uses. Basic parts for golf carts and other machines and tools in need of repair at the school’s compound were among the first projects in a place that doesn’t enjoy the convenience of myriad retail outlets or reliable package delivery.
Just as important, Professor Blood says, was the effect the visit had on the American students.
“It’s interesting to see how they react,” he says. “Some students have seen poverty or grew up in areas of the country we might consider poor, but no one has seen, in person, what you see in Haiti.
“The students are fairly quiet at first, but about an hour into the trip they start to slowly ask questions. Before too long they become invested and ask ‘what can I do now?’ It’s cool to see their motivation. They can’t wait to get back and help out more.”
And there will be more chances to do so. A trip to Nicaragua is planned for the fall to help expand a region’s ability to store and distribute water during dry seasons there. Other long-term goals include entrepreneurship training in Haiti and elsewhere.
“I think the students really benefit from the experience,” he says. “It’s not just sitting in a classroom; they get to see right away how things they do can make an enormous impact on someone’s life.”