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Smashing poverty drives student passion

September 14, 2014

vananessa deng
Student award recipient Vanessa Deng loves smashing pumpkins, as long as it’s for a good cause. Through the Western chapter of Engineers Without Borders, she helps organize an annual pumpkin drop to illustrate efforts to smash poverty.

One thing Vanessa Deng never thought she would do is drop an 800-pound pumpkin suspended from a crane – and cheer as it smashed into smithereens.

But that’s exactly what she and her engineering colleagues at Western did last October. The stunt was hosted by the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), an organization committed to alleviating poverty and injustice through increased access to meaningful technology.

“Yes, dropping a pumpkin sounds crazy, but we do it to raise awareness about how we can be involved in smashing poverty in our world,” says Vanessa, HBA/BESc’17. “It’s also a public way to raise funds so we can send one Western student to Africa every year to assist with an agricultural or water project with EWB.”

For Vanessa, her commitment to social justice began in high school – and continues at Western. “As early as I can remember, I’ve had a passion to encourage and educate students,” adds the 19-year-old, “about what we can be doing to create a better world.”

Building a better way is one reason Vanessa chose to study engineering at Western. She’s focusing on software engineering because it gives her the opportunity to solve problems. “Designing software that people need to make their lives better is an incredible thing because I get to think through options and build the best solution,” says Vanessa.

Her own life and education is being made better through the donor-funded bursaries she has received this past year, including the Senior Alumni Award. Established in 1979, the bursary is funded by alumni gifts and awarded annually to a deserving student.

“I’m honoured to be chosen for this award because it demonstrates that I’m connected to the larger Western community… to those who generously give and support students like me,” says Vanessa. “It’s also quite incredibly humbling to know alumni donors want me to experience all that I can to be prepared for my future.

“When I’m in a position to give back, I will. Others have supported me, so I want to do the same and stand by future students.”

As long as she stands far enough away from any falling pumpkins.

This article appeared in the 2014 edition of Annual Impact
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