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Dayton Engineer

Better engineer, better person, chemical engineering student grateful for ETHOS experience

By Laura Wilker ‘23, chemical engineering with a minor in sustainability, energy and environmental engineering

When I came to Dayton and toured the School of Engineering as a senior in high school, I left knowing two things:

  1. I wanted to be a Dayton Flyer;
  2. I wanted to be a participant in The Ethos Center program.

Fast-forward 5 years, and I am now beginning my 5th year at the University of Dayton in the chemical engineering program, freshly back in the United States after having spent the last 11 weeks growing my technical, problem solving, social and cultural skills, (and lots of yummy veggies:) on an organic farm, at the base of an active volcano, in Alotenango, Guatemala.

Together my travel partners, Elise Clement and Caleb Albright, and I worked on a variety of projects on the farm, including a biogas digester, solar power, hydroponics and aquaponics systems, a robotic sprayer, and DIY organic pesticides. The ultimate goal of these projects was to design prototypes out of material that was easily accessible to the average Guatemalan. The designs could be used on the farm and then members of the surrounding towns would be able to come to the farm and be taught how to use the technologies on their own farms and in their own homes.

While we worked hard during the week helping advance the mission of our community partner, we also embraced our weekend opportunities to go out and experience all the culture and beauty that Guatemala has to offer. From hiking volcanoes, zip lining and surfing, to exploring the historic streets of Antigua, touring a coffee plantation, and visiting the many beautiful Catholic churches. 

Although I’d like to sit here and tell you that every minute of the experience was the greatest thing ever, that would be a lie. In reality, this summer was hard, in more ways than I would have imagined. 

But the thing is, the fact that this summer was “hard” is what made the experience so transformative and memorable and is why I would recommend it to any engineering student. 

We don’t learn or grow until we are pushed outside of our comfort zone and that is exactly what my ETHOS Immersion did.

I learned how to overcome design failures and the importance of perseverance and adaptability. I learned how to communicate and make friends with people who did not speak my language. I learned to dance in the rain both literally and figuratively because when the rainy season hits, you have no other option. I learned how to have challenging conversations and lean into differences to harness the strengths of all members of a team. I learned what it takes to be an engineer for the common good.

With graduation and the real world quickly approaching, I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to cross an international ETHOS Immersion experience off of my University of Dayton bucket list, and I know that I leave the experience not only a better engineer but also a better person.

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