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Young Engineers use Skills to Help Others

December 14, 2015

Sam Rhoads and Ethan Gingerich are watching Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteers build a driveway bridge, also called a personal access bridge, across a West Virginia creek that frequently floods.

As the steel beams and wood decking are put in place, the young engineers are seeing their design come to life, enabling a couple in their 80s to come and go from their home, even when the creek is high.

Both engineers are in their 20s working for JZ Engineering, a structural engineering and sustainability consulting firm in Harrisonburg, Va. The company, owned by Johann Zimmermann, specializes in the engineering of pedestrian bridges, solar arrays, residential and light commercial structures, and nonprofit projects.

Rhoads, said he and Gingerich are proud to have been involved in the West Virginia bridge project when it was simply the beginning of an idea. “We helped design and draw the plans,” he said.

Gingerich added that this job is one of many he would like to do in the future in which he uses his engineering skills to help others. He first heard about Johann Zimmermann when a friend heard one of Zimmermann’s talks at Eastern Mennonite University. At that time, Gingerich said, he was an engineering student at University of Iowa, wondering what kind of career he wanted.

“I knew I wanted to use my skills to help others,” said Gingerich. It turned out that Johann Zimmermann has built a career around that. Zimmermann, who attends Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, has dedicated more than one-third of his company’s time to projects in developing countries as well as in the U.S. that help communities in need.

‘A dream job

After completing his engineering degree, Gingerich went to work for JZ Engineering, and designing vehicular bridges for West Virginia communities has now become one of the many fulfilling projects he has the pleasure of working on, he said.

“Our first project with MDS was a couple years ago here in West Virginia when we designed a pedestrian suspension bridge for the Cogar family after flooding from Hurricane Sandy destroyed their previous bridge”

The destroyed bridge was very troubling since the family had health problems that required frequent access to medical care. When Gingerich saw the impact of the bridge he had designed, he knew he wanted to design even more bridges for families in the area because the structures made such a difference in a state burdened by repeat flooding.

“I believe I am part of a generation that really wants to give back. So I won’t make as much money as some, but that doesn’t matter. This a dream job.”