Tuesday, September 22, 2009

EWB, My Future

Antigua, Guatemala? After freshman year?!

I moved into my dorm room in Umrath Hall freshman year 99% certain that I wanted to study electrical engineering. My certainty made all my high school friends look lazy and undecided when they couldn’t name their major. Here I was, a freshman, and I already “knew” what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. After taking an intro to electrical engineering class, however…

It didn’t last long. I quickly grew tired of electrical engineering and I couldn’t see myself in front of a breadboard putting wires together all day. So I started to really listen in EN-120, I met with the head of the Systems Engineering Department, and then the head of the Civil Engineering Department. Aha! I thought I had found what I wanted to do- but after studying abroad in Mexico before my junior year, I realized how passionate I was about preserving resources, especially water. SO- guess what, I “re-specialized” my major so that I was following an environmental track within civil engineering.

This summer, I found myself as an environmental engineering intern employed by a large corporate engineering firm to redesign sewers. Despite high expectations, I wasn’t blown away by the job. I didn’t feel fulfilled when I left work every day. I found my “cube” [-icle] strangely restrictive, what I was interested in and what I was doing seemed entirely opposed, my body alienated from my mind. After several conversations with co-workers, I could not find anyone who gave me the “aha!” feeling. I never experienced the inspiration or excitement I normally feel when talking to someone who is passionate about their work. After meeting Janine Benyus, the co-founder of Biomimicry, and Cameron Sinclair, founder of Architecture for Humanity, through our EWB Speakers Series; and various environmentally-inspired entrepreneurs in St. Louis and New York, my spine tingled! I was inspired and jealous that they had found a calling for themselves. Their lives were driven by purpose and meaning- and here I was skipping around between engineering disciplines.

So why stay here? After this summer experience, I was so disillusioned that nothing seemed unreasonable. Why stay here in engineering when I would rather become a farmer? Why not go to culinary school and open a restaurant?

Engineers Without Borders kept me in engineering. EWB gives me hope that one day I’ll find a job that I leave feeling fulfilled, or a position in a developing country where I can personally feel the impacts of my own designs. I can do something I’m good at- engineering- while still loving my career. I won’t be making lots of money and I might be flirting with job security; I won’t be working downtown nor will I be wearing a suit. You might- and that’s wonderful- EWB finely complements any traditional engineering career. But for me, doing what I love and what makes me happy means following a career path in which my passions are aligned with my abilities. Maybe it’s silly to rely so much on an organization or a creed, “partner with developing communities worldwide in order to improve their quality of life,” but I see no reason to stop.

I traveled to Guatemala after one year of experience with EWB. There are opportunities for all of us to discover our passions and our directions within this organization- I invite you to try it yourself. What gets me out of bed every morning? EWB. I’ve never felt so proud to be an engineer, never so willing to spend my free time working on projects and the organization of the chapter. My future work uniform and city of residence aren’t certain, but my direction is. Give EWB a try and you’ll see what I mean.

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