Monday, February 22, 2010

Back at it...

So, it has been a while since my last post. I have successfully finished a semester in Graduate School with the University of Pittsburgh School of Engineering. I have to say that it has been tough! The transition from Peace Corps and living in MY hills with MY people has not been that easy. Although I know that education is key to having an impact, I am going through 'immediate satisfaction withdrawal'. I love the word USEFUL. I just miss that. I miss feeling wholly useful on a daily basis. But I am slowly and painfully getting through the transition, now much less painfully than four months ago!

Anyways, one good thing about the withdrawal is that I constantly am looking for eye-opening and worthwhile experiences. Last semester I spoke at the first University of Pittsburgh TEDx event, organized by a friend and fellow student at Pitt. My talk was titled In search of a good use of our time: The struggle of a privileged generation. I told my personal story of world discovery, realization that science and engineering was such a small part of the problem-solving process, and my frustrations in trying to fit into the educational molds laid out by universities. It was great, and it reminded me of why I came back to school. I am not here to become a world class scientist, nor a world-class policy maker or even a development expert. I am here to get a little bit of it all and hopefully find at the intersection some hints towards what Sustainability really entails.

With that in mind I spent much of last semester, and this semester so far, applying for international experiences and opportunities along those lines. And I have had luck! I was selected as a student delegate of a course here at Pitt called Global Engineering Technology. Part of the course is participation in an international conference called INNOVATE 2010. The conference is held for 5 days in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and 5 days in Taipei, Taiwan. It is a collaboration of the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Tulsa, and Rice University, and delegates from around six other national and international universities will be attending. The themes are globalization and the interplay of technology, outsourcing, and international competition. The course has been a weekly web-cast connecting the students here at Pitt with those of Tulsa and Rice. It is an interesting way to bring diverse backgrounds together and learn about the world. So in about two weeks I will be headed off to Vietnam and then soon after to Taiwan. I am excited!

I also spent a lot of time last semester looking for funding opportunities for international research for this coming summer. I found a summer study abroad scholarship, designed my own independent research project, got department approval and course credit, and finally turned in the hulking beast of an application this January. Guess what-I won! My research project titled Success in implementation of clean energy and water projects was awarded the Mcgunagle Memorial Award, the largest award offered by the Nationality Rooms program at Pitt! I was surprised and flattered, not to mention pumped(come on, lets be honest, I am more pumped than anything else)! So this summer starting in mid May I will be visiting three NGOs to learn about their successes and failures in attempting rural electrification projects and potable water provision projects. The three main stops will be Blue Energy, the municpality of Waslala, and AIDG(the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group). The first two are in Nicaragua and the last stop is in Guatemala. I will also spend a week up at El Porvenir visiting the coffee cooperative for whom I helped implement a water pumping system. I am excited to go back to a place I spent so much time thinking about and finally SPEAK to them! Last time I was there I didn't speak any Spanish. It should be very cool.

So that is my life right now. In between the INNOVATE conference and the summer research I will be taking the PhD qualifying exams in my department: Sustainability and Green Design. It is going to be a crazy spring and summer, but I am glad it will be worthwhile! Even though it was and still sometimes is hard to be back, my desire to be useful is what has pushed me to seek out all of these opportunities, and for that I have Peace Corps to thank! Even though it has made this re-introduction to the states like a dip in an ice bath I guess I can be very grateful that it has kept me focused on WHY I came back to school and WHAT I want to get out of it. Like my Uncle John once told me-there are only three real questions. What do you got?
What do you want? And how are you gonna get it? I am still working on all of them, but I think I am heading in the right direction...

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