ECLIPSE Interns Continue the ‘Put-A-Smile’ Effort in Puerto Rico

Apr 27, 2018

Students from the Aurora Mendez Charneco Elementary School in Puerto Rico enjoy the gift bags sent to them by the 2017-2018 ASME Early Career Leadership Intern Program to Serve Engineering (ECLIPSE) interns as part of the “Put-A-Smile” initiative.
Earlier this year, the 2017-2018 class of ASME Early Career Leadership Intern Program to Serve Engineering (ECLIPSE) interns, inspired by the efforts of group of ASME members in California, decided to attempt to lift the spirits of school children in Puerto Rico, which is still slowly recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria last fall.

Spearheaded by ASME members and ECLIPSE interns Jonathan Jennings, Kushi Sellahennedige and Joseph Radisek, theirs was the second activity in the “Put-A-Smile” endeavor, a grassroots ASME member initiative to bring cheer to children affected by last year’s hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico. As previously reported in ASME News, several ASME members of the Orange County, Santa Clara Valley and Los Angeles Sections in California launched the program last fall when they sent gift bags to students at Lobit Elementary School in Dickinson, Texas, a community that was hit especially hard last summer by Hurricane Harvey, which flooded approximately 90 percent of homes in the area.
William Rios and Andrea Nemesszeghy of the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (UPRM) Campus ASME chapter spoke to the elementary school students about STEM-related careers during their “ASME Links” presentation at Aurora Mendez Charneco Elementary School.

After hearing about the “Put-A-Smile” activity in California, Jennings and his fellow ECLIPSE interns began planning one of their own. Jennings coordinated the effort, while Sellahennedige took on fundraising responsibilities, collecting a total of more than $300 from an office fundraiser she organized along with donations from Jennings and ECLIPSE secretary Joseph Radisek. Jennings, his daughter and some of her neighborhood friends packed the gift bags, which were filled with an assortment of candy and toy airplane gliders for the kids and accompanied with supplies for a spaghetti bridge-building activity that would introduce the students to some of the principles of engineering and science. Jennings, a longtime rocket enthusiast, also included rocket-building kits that the students could assemble and launch under the supervision of a teacher.

Eduardo Morales Rivera, who was president of the ASME student chapter at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Campus at the time, agreed to distribute the packages after being contacted about the project through his student chapter’s Facebook page. Rivera and the ECLIPSE interns eventually selected the Aurora Mendez Charneco Elementary School as the place to distribute the bags during a special STEM presentation that would be led by two of the chapter’s student members, Andrea Nemesszeghy, marketing chief for the UPRM ASME chapter, and William Rios, the chapter’s academics chief. During their interactive presentation, titled “ASME Links,” the two student members discussed pursuing degrees and careers in STEM-related fields. Nemesszeghy and Rios then guided the children through a lively exercise in which the children constructed bridges out of spaghetti and then tested the strength of their creations by placing scissors on them.

Aurora Mendez Charneco Elementary School students secure the bridge they created out of spaghetti during the school visit from members of the UPRM ASME chapter in January.
Rivera believes that in addition to lightening the spirits of the students, the “Put-A-Smile” packages combined with the presentation had a bigger, hopefully lasting impact because it presented science and engineering concepts to students who may not have been otherwise introduced to them.

In fact, by the end of the bridge-building activity, many of the students were announcing that they wanted to become engineers, scientists, astronauts, innovators or involved in other science-related professions, Rivera said. “They were very excited with the activity,” he said, adding that the teachers were so pleased with the students’ response, they have asked Rivera and his fellow student members to return. “The teachers that helped us out were very thankful for bringing this kind of joy back to the school and to the children that had suffered so much with the after-effects of the hurricane. I think it is important because it creates a loop of information with us, the ‘soon-to-be professionals,’ the teachers, and the students — the ‘professionals of the future.’” By doing so, he said, “we not only ensure a better future … but the kids are left with the impression that no matter the situation, everything is possible.”

Eduardo Morales Rivera of the UPRM ASME chapter (right) joins Andrea Nemesszeghy during the “ASME Links” presentation.
Jennings, who also found the project to be a rewarding experience, observed that while the year-long term for him and his fellow ECLIPSE interns would be ending soon, the “Put-A-Smile” project could be something that the next class of ECLIPSE interns may choose to continue. In addition, members of ASME sections and student sections may also want to consider organizing their own “Put-A-Smile”-inspired project as one of their section’s activities.

ASME members or student members who are interested should contact Jonathan Jennings at, ECLIPSE intern Joseph Radisek at, or Michael Roy of the Group Engagement Committee at