While most engineers hope to make a world of difference in their careers, one recent graduate of West Virginia University’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources is actually putting that idea into practice.
Toledo, Ohio, native Matthew Asher recently accepted a position as a project engineer with Global Ministries, a religious non-profit organization that promotes volunteer outreach opportunities aimed at improving the quality of life for individuals in developing countries. For the next two years, he will oversee the installation of solar and water purification systems for a hospital in a village located in Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone.
The goal of the project Asher will oversee is to create new and improved electricity and water systems that will generate income for the hospital and increase its sustainability. Currently the hospital receives power from a large, expensive diesel generator that makes the cost of surgeries and basic care very high. The organization will be tasked with installing a solar-powered system to run the facilities lights and surgical equipment, which will substantially reduce the hospitals operational costs. Additionally, a mini solar grid will be installed that will allow the hospital to sell metered solar power to nearby villages in order to generate revenue. The revenue will then be used to pay for staff salaries, lessening the burden of relying on donors for support.
”By providing electricity to the community we will be giving locals access to refrigeration, television entertainment and use of other electric-powered equipment,” said Asher. “It will certainly bring the village out of the dark ages and help generate new markets in the area.”
Along with an improved electricity system, the organization will install a water sanitation system that will take non-potable water and purify it into safe drinking water, which can then be packaged and sold to nearby villages to generate additional income. Asher will also be responsible for training a team of local staff members that will be in charge of maintaining the new systems once the project is complete.
“During this journey I look forward to growing my skills and knowledge of engineering with the hopes of one day opening my own non-profit organization that benefits those in developing counties,” said Asher. “It’s the goodness I see every day in those around me that drives me forward to help others.”
Asher’s passion for helping those in developing countries began at a young age. When he was 15, his family moved from Ohio to Sierra Leone where they ran a small, 80-bed bush hospital for two and a half years. Upon retuning to the United States, Asher decided to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering to give him the foundation needed to make a difference in the world.
“As an engineering student at WVU the idea of working hard and treating others as equals was instilled in us from day one, but it was the culture and people of WVU that inspired the idea that Mountaineers go first,” said Asher. “These are the same ideas and values I hope to promote to my team while running the project in Sierra Leone.”
As a freshman at WVU, Asher had the opportunity to return to Sierra Leone to volunteer for an organization called Energy for Opportunity. During the trip he worked with a team to install small solar systems in three bush clinics, which provided enough power to run the facilities lights 24-hours a day. They were able to also support a small pay-to-use phone charging station that helped generate revenue to pay for nurses and medicine during a time when the government was facing shortages. A larger 30 kilowatt system was also installed in a rural bush hospital that provided the entire facility with lighting and granted them the ability to perform one surgery a day.
To expand his knowledge on the capabilities of solar power systems, Asher had an internship his junior year with Epiphany Solar Water Systems in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked on projects that focused on making solar water distillation units that could be housed in shipping containers for easy storage and transportation.
“Working for a research and development company taught me many valuable lessons about working in small groups and the cycle of testing, failure, redesign and retesting that is so prevalent in this field,” said Asher. “Being in that environment allowed me to receive one-on-one attention with the lead mechanical engineer for the company, which helped me learn a lot about the water distillation process that will benefit my upcoming projects.”
After completing his degree in 2015, Asher worked for Siemens in their building technologies division before deciding to return to his passion of helping others. Shortly after he began searching for an organization that would grant him the opportunity to give back to developing countries, Global Ministries reached out to him with the opportunity to return to Sierra Leone. The organization noted that his experience with volunteering in the country, knowledge of the language and local business practices, as well as the educational foundation he received from WVU were among the many reasons he was desired for the job.
“What I am looking forward to most is making a tangible difference in the world,” said Asher. “I pursued a degree in engineering with the desire to help those in need, so it is such a blessing to be in a position to follow my dreams.”
Asher will start his new position in February 2017, and is looking to raise $7,500 to cover his living expenses for the duration of the project. People wishing to contribute can visit http://ubglobal.org/donate/ and select “Ministry of Matthew Asher” to contribute to his campaign.
Asher will also be blogging about his experience throughout the duration of the project. His blog can be found at http://mattstravelsfydrf.blogspot.com/.
For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources:
College Relations office: 304-293-4086
Office of the Dean: 304-293-4157
Other College administrative and department offices: Administration