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SCU Engineering News

Michael Neumann: Epitomizing “Engineering with a Mission”

Michael Neumann

At SCU, we talk a lot about educating leaders who will have the knowledge, integrity, and desire to go out and do some good in the world. A prime example of how well we are achieving our goal is Michael Neumann, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering at SCU and is now in the Ph.D. program researching mechatronics and robotics.

During his undergraduate days, Neumann was unable to study abroad or take part in University immersion trips to Columbia or El Salvador as some of his classmates did, so when he was finishing up his master’s work and considering what to do next, he “thought it would be nice to go to another country and learn a new language and culture.” He joined the Peace Corps in September 2004 and traveled to Tanzania where he taught math and physics at a secondary school for three years. “It was rewarding work and I became close with other Peace Corps volunteers and teachers living in the area through this shared experience,” he said.

When his time in the Peace Corps was finished, Neumann returned to Santa Clara to finish up his master’s thesis and since then has returned to Tanzania twice for 2-3 month stints, working with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) about 50 miles from where he had previously lived. The first project entailed building a water distribution system, and during his most recent visit in the summer of 2010, he trained locals on solar power and photovoltaic systems. “We are planning to put PV on the dispensary to provide lighting, so we trained a committee to design the system for themselves. Everyone in the community was invited to come and learn,” he said. During each of his visits, Neumann returned to schools around the village where he had taught with the Peace Corps—the first time doing some satellite tracking of NASA’s SCU-monitored GeneSat satellite using a hand-held yagi antenna, and later demonstrating the rapid chemical reaction between diet soda and candy mints and making water rockets with the students. A natural-born teacher, Neumann takes every opportunity to help people learn, and he and a couple of friends from the Peace Corps have taken their mission a step farther by starting a nonprofit organization, Tanzania Empowerment Through Education Association, or TETEA which means “to speak out for someone” in Swahili.