Kassie Coverdale Lafayette, Ind. / 22 Agricultural Engineering BS, 2015 Concentration in Machine Systems Purdue University My first two years of college, I struggled. I put so much work into my studies, but I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted. Most of all, I missed working with my hands. After my sophomore year, I joined the Purdue Utility Project team, a global team that designs and builds off-road vehicles that can be constructed in sub-Saharan Africa with locally available materials. I worked over the summer for my professor as an undergrad researcher, conducting tests on existing vehicles, redesigning the frames, and making modifications in the shop to fix issues I discovered during testing. I corrected the steering of one of the vehicles that pulled hard to one side—no one could figure out why, but I discovered the problem. I reworked the entire front suspension system—cut into the frame and constructed a new system to support the front strut and steering assembly—and it was a success! That’s when I knew I was in the right place. I just needed to see real results—that my time and effort toward my degree was worth it. I stayed on the team and loved my “hands-on” major from then on. Check out https://engineering.purdue.edu/pup/. After my junior year, I worked for Wright Implement, a John Deere dealership in Crawfordsville, Ind. In the service department, I processed inventory data and worked closely with the senior service technicians to inspect, evaluate, and repair large agricultural equipment and implements. However, my heart was in the African utility vehicle, and as testing and design innovation leader on my team, I traveled this past summer (my first-ever trip to Cameroon!) to implement our new Practical Utility Platform (PUP) vehicle. Purdue has taken teams every year since 2009, and I was thrilled to experience Africa, passport and skills in hand. Most villagers and farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have no way to transport their goods to market, so crop waste has been estimated at 40% to 50%. This means that money that could be used to improve their lives literally rots in the fields. Furthermore, access to drinkable water is a struggle; women and children have to carry pots of water back and forth over outrageous distances. Our vehicle is significantly cheaper than any existing alternative, and it can carry up to 2000 lbs of payload in one trip, a huge improvement on the current system of manually carrying crops and water. Additionally, we added external attachments that mount on the vehicle—a water pump, maize grinder, grain thresher, belt-driven generator/welder, no-till planter, and field cultivator. These attachments turn our vehicle into a portable power unit to significantly improve the lives of the village as a whole. I am so incredibly grateful to have traveled to Africa and seen first-hand the impact our project has on villagers there.
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