While most students spend their summer break decompressing from a busy academic year, one international student from West Virginia University’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources used his time off to give back while pursuing his passions.
Mining engineering student Jack Prommel has always had a passion for travel but it was his upbringing in La Paz, Bolivia, that inspired him to spend this summer volunteering in Africa.
“Since I grew up in a third world nation giving back to the community has always been a focal point in my life,” said Prommel. “I had planned to go to South Africa over the past year and found that volunteering would make my travels more fulfilling.”
In May, Prommel traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, with International Student Volunteers, a non-profit organization that provides educational volunteer and travel adventure programs to university students.
He spent a month teaching sustainability and environmental practices to locals and aided the community in building a soup kitchen and redesigning and building a safe playground, as well as designing a rainwater collection system.
“As the only person on the team with an engineering background I had the task of designing the systems using things I've learned from fluid mechanics, statics and many of my other engineering courses,” said Prommel. “Often we get consumed by life in our towns and cities, yet there are places half the world away who are having bigger problems, or have better solutions than what we face. Volunteering in South Africa taught me that we have so much beauty around us and we have so much diversity to celebrate.”
Instead of heading home when his volunteer experience ended in June, Prommel continued to travel around South Africa. He explored Swaziland and Lesotho, where he ate and lived like the locals to fully immerse himself in the culture.
“Living with locals in the mountainous region of central South Africa was humbling,” said Prommel. “To see that their diet consists of spinach, maize and bread for every meal really put into perspective how easy we have it in the United States.”
He also visited local healers, the only female tribal chief in South Africa and the birth place of the Nation’s first president, Nelson Mandela.
Prommel returned to the United States in early July with a renewed perspective; however he did not return to Morgantown. Instead he headed south to unveil his hidden talent: poetry.
Prior to setting out on his journey to South Africa, Prommel was recovering from a broken heart after the end of a three year relationship. Feeling lost and struggling to cope with the failed relationship, he found solace in writing poetry.
“When we broke up I felt lost; I felt very alone,” explained Prommel. “I started writing and found a community of students that supported me at WVU and they pushed me to peruse my passion.”
Prommel channeled his time, energy and emotions into creating poetry that was reflective of his personal experience and heart break. The poems were assembled and transformed into a book of poetry that detailed his mental journey through the ordeal.
The book, titled On Display, was written in both Spanish and English to reflect Prommel’s heritage and was launched on July 14, in Houston, Texas.
“The main goal for writing the book was to rediscover myself,” said Prommel. “The book helped spark a flame in me to keep on perusing my passions. I didn’t know it at the time but the book ultimately helped prepare me for my next challenge.”
Prommel is referring to his final and most difficult journey of the summer, an 11-day trek across Europe.
“I was given the chance to experience the German state of Bavaria in the most unique and true way: by hopping mountain to mountain and staying in Bavarian huts and local homes,” said Prommel.
Prommel headed straight from the launch event in Texas to Europe to hike across Germany and Austria through the Northern Alps. During the trip he tackled a 21-mile hike to the peak of the Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany, and covered more than 115 miles on foot through the rugged terrain.
“Hiking up a mountain is a rewarding experience in itself as the feat seems daunting during the approach but the views are truly breathtaking,” said Prommel. “Eleven days in places where the only way I could communicate was through hand signs and broken German was humbling. As the journey comes to an end I feel a great feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment.”
Prommel recently returned to Morgantown to begin the fall semester at WVU and admits that it’s not always easy to juggle school, traveling around the world and writing poetry. However, he credits WVU and the engineering program with helping him find the right balance between work and play and hopes to one day use his experiences to give back to the University.
“Engineering students have to become masters of time management to succeed and I believe that if you have time for Netflix then you have time to pursue your passions,” said Prommel. “WVU and the professors at the engineering college have helped me overcome the fear of failure, the loss of loved ones, and have encouraged me to push forward. Having a world view will help me in the future to understand problems and find solutions within the WVU community, within the engineering curriculum, and within myself.”