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WLHS grad uses engineering skills to help design Sri Lankan orphanage

After visiting Sri Lanka while attending West Linn High School, Jessica Napier decided to go into the engineering field.

Now, eight years later, Napier is using her experience as a design engineer with KPFF Consulting Engineers to oversee construction of an orphanage in Sri Lanka for children left abandoned by the December 2004 tsunami.

'This is what I've wanted to do with engineering so it was really great to do this,' said Napier, P.E. 'I've always wanted to go overseas and help. … I just feel like our whole team is so excited - everybody is so motivated.'

From May 4 to May 19 Napier and her team assessed the 8-acre area plotted for the orphanage, near the town of Elalla in the southern province. The designated area is 10 miles inland from a fishing town, which was badly affected by the hurricane, she said.

An orphanage and school on the property will house 350 children and staff as well as an on-site medical and dental facility.

'We called it our site assessment trip - basically it's a geo-technical investigation and environmental analysis,' said Napier, 28, who acted as lead structural engineer on the trip. 'We needed to meet with the people that will be running the orphanage and check with materials and become more familiar with the culture.'

Now, back in Portland, Napier and her team of about 15 will work on water routing for the site and design the proposed facilities.

She says the Engineers Without Borders program has given her a better understanding of the different types of disciplines within her field. As a member of the Portland chapter she is also involved on the steering committee as the events chair.

In about a year, she will return to Sri Lanka to monitor the construction of the buildings.

'(I'm looking forward to) visiting the kids again. … And the food was great,' said Napier. 'We traveled with locals so we got to eat real local food and it was unbelievable. (I'm excited) to keep this project going.'

For more information about Engineers Without Borders, visit the Web site at http://www.ewbportland.org/.