BLACKSBURG, Virginia — Most students who have graduated from Virginia Tech with engineering degrees are joining companies that pay them for their work.
Armed with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the university in Blacksburg, Maureen Fuller is joining a group that asks her to raise her own living expenses.
She’s happy to do it because she believes it’s the path God has set for her and her husband, Alex — to use their talent for infrastructure design to help people in other countries.
“Some people are called to use their professional gifts at work and bring Christian values to their office and industry, and then on the side do ministry work, whatever they’re called to in their spiritual lives and share that with others,” Maureen told The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Richmond Diocese.
“But I especially have felt very called to use the education and engineering services that I’ve been blessed to learn to also share the Gospel,” she added in an interview ahead of her plans to head to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to begin a two- to three-year fellowship with Engineering Ministries International, or EMI.
The nonprofit Christian organization that sends architects, engineers, surveyors and other professionals to design and build hospitals, schools and water systems in developing countries.
The first Catholic accepted for the fellowship program, Maureen’s interest is designing water and sanitation projects. Over the next 18 months or so she’ll work toward her engineering license, observe and assist on current projects, and take bible study and theology courses. Then, she and Alex will most likely work overseas.
Raised a Catholic in Northern Virginia, Maureen was active in her parish — Nativity Catholic Church in Fairfax County — throughout high school: singing in a youth choir, taking a mission trip to Haiti and even serving as one of two youth representatives on the parish council in her senior year.
“I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when I wanted to connect service, education and faith,” she said. “But in high school, when I was discerning what college to go to or what I wanted to major in, it was definitely in my mind that I want to pursue something that leads to service. My late pastor always said that we should serve across the street and around the world, and I’ve really taken that to heart.”
Virginia Tech had the right combination of courses, social life and Catholic campus ministry that she wanted.
The university’s honors college recruited her, provided some scholarship money and a chance for a fellowship that would allow her to “expand on my course knowledge and combine engineering education with language study, cultural immersion and some other goals that the honors college wanted students to pursue.”
Maureen found an organization in the Dominican Republic she wanted to work with and was all set to go when their offer fell through. Though disappointing, she now sees it as “a God moment.” She found EMI through a fellow student and did her honors internship through them in Nicaragua.
“It was so much better than I ever could have anticipated for wanting to combine engineering and service because I also got to incorporate faith,” she said. “I had an amazing experience. I really felt such a purpose in my work there, just 10 weeks in Nicaragua, but I felt like everything that I had been learning and seeking before then was all fulfilled.”
That experience has led to this other opportunity with EMI.
Although she has considered some of the Catholic organizations that work in developing countries, she found their focus was on faith formation, education or health care, “which is wonderful,” but stayed with EMI because it was “one of the few Christian organizations or nonprofits in general that focus specifically on engineering design services.”
A native of Hampton, Virginia, Alex grew up in a nondenominational church and after high school worked for a skydiving company. He always liked taking things apart — though he’s “a lot better now at putting things back together”– and decided to pursue engineering, enrolling in a community college program that guaranteed admission to Virginia Tech.
“It did make me realize I wanted to use my gifts and talents to serve others, and I think that’s what we’re called to do no matter what field we’re in,” he said.
He met Maureen through a salsa dancing club at Virginia Tech. She asked him to go to Sunday Mass, and as they spent more time together, their relationship deepened as they found they shared the same personal, professional and spiritual interests. They were married July 24, 2021, at St. Mary Church in Blacksburg.
The Virginia Tech motto, “Ut Prosim” (“That I may serve”) is etched in their wedding bands.
“Whether you’re religious or not, that’s a very important value to develop,” Maureen said. “But because we do have the goal of sharing the Gospel, ‘that I may serve’ has really turned into ‘that I may serve the Lord through serving others.'”
Alex has gone through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults but is still discerning if he wants to join the Catholic Church, but he joins Maureen for Sunday Mass.
After joining Maureen for the initial orientation at EMI in Colorado, he planned to return to Blacksburg to finish the research project for his master’s degree. Since he’s not in the fellowship program, he’ll be working on his own and may do some volunteer work on EMI projects. But wherever Maureen is eventually assigned — she hopes to return to Nicaragua — he’ll be going, too, since the organization wants couples to serve together.
“We are a team; we do want to pursue this together in the same location as much as possible, but we will make it work,” Maureen said.
After the Masses one weekend in July at Our Lady of Nazareth Church in Roanoke, Virginia, Maureen shared the journey they’re on and asked for support. As she talked with people leaving church, many were eager to meet a young couple aiming to live out the words of the closing hymn they had just sung: “God has chosen me, God has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.” And good design.
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Editor’s Note: Anyone who would like to contact the Fullers can reach them at Maureen.Fuller@emiworld.org.
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Staniunas writes for The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond.