A passion for community service leads to a degree in engineering
Andrew Dittmer, a freshman mechanical and aerospace engineering major at West Virginia University, dedicates his free time to giving back to his community while juggling a full-time college course load in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
Dittmer, a Cumberland, Maryland, native, was awarded the United States Senator Chris Van Hollen’s Public Service Award last summer for his community service project, Bags for Babies.
Bags for Babies is a community service project that helps substance exposed newborns within the foster care system. Bags with necessities that newborns need, like diapers, are made by Dittmer and are distributed to families who foster the children.
According to Dittmer, he has always had a drive to help make the world a better place, which is why he chose to study mechanical and aerospace engineering. He explained that it gives him the ability to focus on developing innovative solutions to problems.
“Specifically, I was inspired by Elon Musk’s desire to solve world problems and make human life better,” he said.
Dittmer’s Mountaineer roots run deep, both his parents and sister are alumni, so attending WVU himself was the natural next step. However, the Statler College’s EcoCar and Experimental Rocketry team are what really sold him.
“I was excited to see all of the opportunities that WVU had and how much the faculty cares for its students,” Dittmer said.
Dittmerwas inspired to pursue his Bags for Babies project after spending most of his youth volunteering with his mother at local homeless shelters.
“My mother grew up in the foster care system and because of her experiences we began volunteering together at our local Union Rescue Mission,” Dittmer said.
After volunteering there for several years, Dittmer learned that many families found themselves living at the shelter as a result of substance abuse. This led him to start questioning how many children were in the foster care system due to substance abuse-related circumstances.
Dittmer found that the biggest need for social service workers wasn’t actually for children, but for newborn babies; that is the moment when he got the idea for this project.
He started filling bags withsupplies recommended by asocial serviceworker: diapers, wipes, baby shampoo, diaper rash ointment, blankets, board booksand diaper bags.
“After gathering the supplies, we began to realize it would be more cost effective to make the blankets and bags,” he said. “I began sewing fleece blankets and bags along with my mother.”
Dittmer reached out to his church family asking for help, to which some members donated while others also helped sew the blankets and bags.
Once word spread of his project, a local nursing home even began making the blankets and bags.
“This project gave them a sense of importance and the ability to impact my community,” Dittmer said.
To date, Dittmer, along with the help of his community, have made 80 bags.
Now that he’s almost completed his first year at the Statler College, and still working on Bags for Babies, Dittmer has learned the impact that just one person can have on the world.
“This project has made me realize that the world is full of problems and negativity and I can choose to be overwhelmed or I can look for ways that I can have a small, positive impact,” he said. “I learned that by taking the first step, I can inspire those around to join me.”
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit
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