Maddie Crocenzi

This summer, a team of students from the Collaboratory built a bridge in Panama to help local children get to school during the rainy season. The trip marks the construction of the Collaboratory’s third bridge in Panama and the second in the village of Bajo Grande.


The bridge in Bajo Grande, Panama, before and after. Photos from Mark Simpkins.

Student project manager Benjamin Holderman said the project began in October and was completed in July.

“We got our survey data in late October, and that’s when we were able to actually start designing the bridge,” Holderman explained. “From October to May was design and prepare for construction. Mid-May to the middle of July was construction.”

Six students helped design the cable suspended bridge which spans approximately 260 feet long. A total of thirteen students split into two teams and traveled to Panama to construct the bridge.

“We had a team in the first half; they came back the first week of June and then there was a second team,” said Holderman. “And two of our students were there the entire time.”

One student on the first leg of the trip was junior engineering major Mark Simpkins. His group focused on foundational work for the bridge and they also enjoyed more time interacting with the community members.


The Collaboratory teams who traveled to Panama to help construct the bridge. Photos from Benjamin Holderman.

“We lived with the community so we really got to know them very well. We were always with the kids,” Simpkins said. “We played a lot of soccer and games with the kids and that was by far my favorite part.”

Simpkins was also surprised by the community’s work ethic. He said the people of Bajo Grande, including children, helped construct the bridge.

“There were a lot of locals down there that helped us out with the bridge and the kids all wanted to pitch in wherever they could. Without them, this would’ve taken so much longer,” Simpkins said.


A young boy crosses the Collaboratory’s newly constructed bridge. Photo from Mark Simpkins.

Donors, churches and outside organizations were also key in helping to build the bridge. Holderman says working with partners like Dan Cotton of Rio Missions, Bridges of Prosperity and the local Panamanian government was a large part of the project.

“He’s (Dan Cotton) a huge part of our success in the actual construction because he knows the country and the people.”

Despite all of the hard work designing and constructing the bridge, only three members of the team were able to stay and see it completed. However, Holderman says he wouldn’t change the outcome.

“I think it was in God’s plan that we didn’t see the bridge finished because we left and it was up to the community,” he said. “If they really wanted this bridge they had to finish it on their own. He knew what He was doing to kind of force the community to take ownership and finish it and make it their own.”

Although the completed bridge will now help children cross the river during the rainy season to get to school in Bajo Grande, it also stands as a reminder of a summer of friendship, collaboration and hard work.

“I would hope the biggest impact the bridge has is sort of acting as a reminder each time they are able to walk across it of the time they were able to spend with us,” Holderman said.

Now the Collaboratory works toward the future – specifically looking at building a bridge in Mexico. Tonight from 7-8 p.m. in Frey 070 there will be a Projects Open House for anyone intersted in learning about the Collaboratory’s upcoming projects. Anyone on campus that is looking to get involved with a specific project or the Collaboratory, should attend the Open House or visit their website at


Maddie Crocenzi

Pug lover, Christ-follower, runner and peanut butter enthusiast.