Before she entered college, Susanna Young knew she loved to learn how things work.
After nearly four years at Arizona State University, Young knows now that she wants to use that information in a creative way to help others.
The Ahwatukee Foothills resident is currently enrolled in the mechanical engineering program and is working on a humanitarian project that could one day help a struggling community in Malawi, Africa.
The project involves converting a massive, 40-foot-by-8-foot-by-8-foot, metal shipping container into a maternity clinic or a medical office.
"We are coming up with innovative ways to apply and maintain an enclosure that will help against their maternal mortality rate," Young, 21, said.
She is involved with a group called the Engineering Projects in Community Service, or EPICS program at ASU. The goal of the group is to find creative solutions to humanitarian problems.
Young and her team, Malawi Empowerment Village, won $2,000 through ASU's Innovation Challenge in the spring of 2010, and will use that money on a shipping container prototype. She also received the EPICS's Top Dog award for most outstanding student.
"It was rewarding to get that grant because it showed us that our idea has credibility," Young said." With my and my teammates involvement, the project has taken a big step forward and it has generated support for it."
Young, who was homeschooled until enlisting at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, is on track to graduate with her bachelor's degree next year. Because she is also enrolled in a four-plus-one program, she can receive her master's degree in just one extra year of coursework.
Her fellow students and ASU faculty made the transition an easy one and have given her more opportunities than she expected going in.
"The professors encourage you to dream big and think about how you can make things happen," Young said. "It happens where a student says maybe I'm too young, I need more experience to get involved in solving the big problems. But I don't feel that way. I've had many opportunities to explore my curiosities."
Being in such a program, Young has had the ability to take a wide range of classes, including dipping her toes in entrepreneurship, which opened her eyes to a different type of career path.
"I'd love to get involved with starting a nonprofit," she said. "There are definitely problems that can arise when you have a goal of helping people. Like what is expected from you, I would love to learn more about that."
To follow the Malawi Empowerment Village Project, visit its website, https://sites.google.com/a/asu.edu/malawi-empowerment-village.