College promotes project-based learning with a global reach

Ernesto had not been able to walk for years. He contracted polio at age seven and spent his time on the streets of Guatemala, begging for money. At age 44, his life was changed when he received a Personal Energy Transportation (PET) vehicle. With this new mobility, Ernesto is now able to make money by running a successful snack cart.

Ernesto’s story is just one of the more than 31,000 people who have received PET vehicles, a project in which Ivy Tech Community College−Northeast has played a significant role.

PET International aims to bring mobility to people in need in 94 countries, including Guatemala, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam, to name a few. PETs are sturdy, low-cost carts that consist of a metal frame and wooden bed and come in adult and child versions. Some are operated by hand-cranks, while others come in a push/pull model for those without the use of their arms.

In 2009 Bruce Horne, then-welding instructor, was approached to be involved in the PET Project. Upon watching a video of people in other countries pulling themselves through the mud, being confined to bed all day and having no means to support themselves, Horne was determined that Ivy Tech could help out.

“We (in America) have so much, and there are so many people in the world who have absolutely nothing,” Horne said. “PET International was asking if Ivy Tech could help their organization by welding the steel frames of the PET cart together. Could I help? Could Ivy Tech help? Absolutely!”

And help, Ivy Tech has. For the past three years, as a part of fabrication coursework, Industrial Technology students have welded hundreds of frames for PET vehicles. John Christman, assistant instructor in welding, now teaches the Fabrication II class in which the frames are constructed. According to him, this project in particular teaches the students that it is quality, not quantity that matters.

“Students like the fact that they get to do some hands-on learning, plus the fact that they are helping people who don’t have any way of getting around,” Christman said. “It’s an all-around good thing for everybody.”

Industrial Technology students Jason Hatfield and Reggie Singleton worked together in class this spring to complete a number of frames, one fitting the frame before the other would weld it. The total process takes an estimated 15–20 minutes.

“It’s definitely cool, helping somebody out,” Hatfield said. Singleton added, “I think it’s pretty nice to be able to give back to people in need through something I’m doing in class.”

Once Ivy Tech students weld the frames, they are shipped to a partner in Ohio to be further assembled and onto affiliate PET Missouri–Columbia. From there, they go on to be distributed to countries around the world. Ivy Tech is one of multiple affiliates across the United States.

“It’s more than just welding—there’s that community-service aspect. We all need to get involved beyond just work,” Christman said.

Beyond the classroom, Horne has welded more than 400 frames at his home workshop.

“That’s not much compared to how many PET frames are needed, but it makes me feel good to think that I could help a few people in need,” Horne said. “That means that somewhere in the world, more than 400 people will no longer have to pull themselves through the mud. That makes me feel good!”

Industrial Technology student Reggie Singleton welds the frame of a PET vehicle

A woman from El Salvador uses her PET vehicle

Adult version of the PET vehicle