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Bang discusses bridge’s CEO position in appearance at Clarkson

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POTSDAM - From constructing Legos in her childhood Iowa home to building bridges in Central American villages, Avery Bang has been an engineer from the very beginning.

Ms. Bang will be receiving an honorary degree during Clarkson University’s commencement on Saturday and took some time to talk with the public about her post as CEO of Bridges to Prosperity yesterday.

Associate Professor of History Laura Ettinger interviewed Ms. Bang about various topics ranging from her childhood and education, how she became involved in Bridges to Prosperity and her work in developing countries.

“I think I was a pretty typical kid that ends up in engineering. I played with Legos and loved building things. My dad was a civil engineer too,” Ms. Bang said. “I looked to both of my parents daily for inspiration and they’ve been huge influences for me. I think on a bigger scale it’s also about the coaches I’ve had, the teachers, the educators and the friends that I’ve had through the years. Everyone that you meet is such a huge part of who you are. I think that you carve off a little bit from each person that you meet throughout life.”

Bridges to Prosperity is a not-for-profit organization that builds footbridges and trains people in developing countries to build pedestrian bridges in their communities.

The group, headquartered in Denver, Colo., was founded in 2001 and has served 14 countries during its existence.

At the tail end of her undergraduate career at the University of Iowa, Ms. Bang spent a semester working in Fiji. This experience led her to the realization of what she wanted to do with her life.

“I was from the Midwest, grew up in the same town that I went to college in... it’s not to say that we didn’t have a very global community, but I didn’t really understand the privilege from which I came and I had a very intentional commitment to exposing myself to a different environment,” Ms. Bang said. “I really thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was a cultural exchange more than anything. ... This points to my eureka moment.”

The CEO described a recently constructed pedestrian bridge on one of the islands, courtesy of the New Zealand government. She said that the community’s appreciation was obvious and the structure completely changed their lives.

“It never had occurred to me that in such a rural place, that that kind of isolation could be a huge divider. The fact that a simple bridge could come in and make such a profound change was a life-shifting moment,” Ms. Bang said. “When I (returned to Iowa) I immediately started Google searching ‘bridge building organizations’ and I found that there was only one and it was called Bridges to Prosperity.”

Ms. Bang began with Bridges to Prosperity as a volunteer in 2006 and has since established a scalable model to ensure safe year-round access to schools, markets and health clinics through pedestrian bridge building and training in rural developing communities.

According to the CEO, when she started with the company they were constructing three to four bridges per year. The group has plans to build 33 in 2014.

“It’s not only a scale of projects built, but it’s also in the ripple effect of the system - thinking that you have the ability to reach an incredible amount of people and change lives,” Ms. Bang said.

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