How do college students choose to spend their time -- beside studying and miscellaneous extra-curricular activities? Adventurers travel to far-away places to offer a hand, while creative thinkers propose solutions to problems in health care or sustainability. The technically minded build innovative stuff and explore rocket science. Others share their experiences to offer support for students on the same career path. Here are 10 very different projects that inspire the mind and/or heart:
- Bennington College: $10,000 Project for Peace grant. This grant allowed a Bennington student to return to her native Pakistan, where she mentored a group of teens and helped save a library. Far from her college campus in Vermont, 20-year-old Maliha Ali led a community action workshop with 16 Pakistani high school students. Afterward, the group took their knowledge to a defunct library, which they plumbed, painted and decorated. Before adding over 2,000 books, they also repaired the library shelves.
- Cornell University: Cornell Sustainable Design. Seven Cornell students jumped onto a 100 percent carbon offset bus to spread the word about sustainability. Traveling from Ithaca, NY, to its eventual destination -- the 2012 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in San Francisco -- this eco-friendly tour made every stop count: en route, it picked up 25 additional students from other colleges and participated in five cities' community service projects.
- Princeton University: Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS). In the EGR251 course, Princeton engineering students joined forces with a recycled-materials artist to create eco-friendly houses. The "B Home," as its name suggests, is inspired by the honeycomb, and it is designed so it can be stacked with other B Homes, to form the shape of a beehive. The design provides for a sustainable, safe and affordable structure. Students hope the B Home model can be used for disaster relief in developing countries.
- Purdue University: Open Compute Project. Facebook challenged Purdue College of Technology students to develop a biodegradable server chassis (case). Current server chassis are recyclable, but even recycling creates waste, and the typical four-year lifespan of servers creates a ton of it. Will the server chassis become something to toss in the compost with coffee grounds and egg shells? Time will tell. The contest is set to begin in the spring 2013 semester.
- University of Delaware: First Step. University of Delaware's College of Health Sciences (CHS) is supporting student project proposals like "Bringing Life to the Food Desert" and "Junk Kills." This program encourages students to find solutions to health-care related problems, from childhood obesity to hunger in Haiti. Nine proposals passed the first phase, with themes like teen pregnancy, physical therapy and nutrition. The creators were given $500 to develop their ideas. Cash prizes are planned for the top projects, and the judging is scheduled for Spring 2013.
- University of Louisville: NASA University Student Launch Initiative (USLI). When college students compete in USLI, they collaborate with NASA engineers to design, build and launch the most awesome reusable rocket. University of Louisville entered the USLI competition for the first time in the 2011-2012 school year, grabbing a few awards: Best Rookie Team, Best Website and 5th place overall, out of 42 teams. The group's approach included a focus on efficient body design, along with a cutting edge parachute control system.
- University of Massachusetts Dartmouth: Engineers Without Borders. Four UMass Dartmouth engineering students trekked to a remote part of the Panamanian jungle to help a village in need of clean water. The group identified the problem with the water supply -- an aging water tank filled with E. coli and salmonella -- and began plans to engineer a disease-free tank. Challenges included food poisoning, slippery cliffs and a machete that nearly severed some digits. Still, these members of the international Engineers Without Borders look forward to further adventures.
- University of Queensland: Vietnam Reporter Project. Some study abroad experiences are more intense than others. In November 2012, University of Queensland journalism students took part in a 10-day comprehensive field reporting course in Vietnam. The students created content for Australian television news programs, Al Jazeera, CNN and Television Vietnam. Immersive experiences like this help students learn the ropes of a career.
- University of Wisconsin-Madison: Concrete Canoe Team. Concrete Canoe competitions provide civil engineering students hands-on experience with project management, leadership and concrete. Although concrete boats have been around since 1848, they continue to offer engineering challenges. UW-Madison students, who have been competing since the 1980s, snagged 8th place in the 2012 annual national competition. (The University of Nevada, Reno hosted the 2012 contest, where California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo paddled to victory.) The UW Badger team invites visitors to meetings on concrete mixology, esthetics and design.
- University of Virginia: This Journal Belongs to a Nursing Student. A book created by University of Virginia nursing students is intended to motivate and inspire other nursing students and offer life lessons for everyone. The book is filled with essays, poems and journal entries about the challenges nursing students face. Childbirth, cancer and aging are among the topics. A $3,000 grant from the university's Project in the Arts allowed the students to print 500 copies of the book.
The individuals involved in these community-based projects are humanitarians, thinkers and innovators -- and also real-life learners. Instead of waiting for their careers to make a difference in the world, these college students are having an impact already.