Phillip Coleman Community Manager Intern National Academy of Engineering

Engineering 10,000 Miles from Home

PostedFriday, August 11, 2017 at 8:03 AM

You might not remember me; my name is Taylor Coleman (TC for short) and last summer I was Community Manager Intern for LinkEngineering. I’m about to enter my senior year at Andrews University. Many of you received several emails from me about engaging in K12 engineering education. I want to give you a quick update on what I did over summer in Asia, and on self-education.

For two months, I was living in Timor Leste (East Timor) and working as a Technical Wash Specialist in charge of approving technical designs for several rural communities. To be a bit more specific, I was approving designs for water pumps. Keep in mind that I had only taken one course in fluid mechanics to that point, and the only part that was directly related to my job was only covered on the last two days of class. Add to that, I haven’t even graduated college yet. Needless to say, I was a little in over my head with the challenge that was ahead of me. To make matters worse, during my duration in East Timor, I was the only person with a technical background working for WorldVision, my sponsor.

There I was, underexperienced, 10,000 miles away from the safety of my home, and dealing with high expectations. What do you do? You can’t just do nothing or say you never learned the material. Well, the way I see it, there is only one thing to do, which is to learn the material. I emailed people I knew from working with Engineers Without Borders, and I asked them for help. I went back and looked through old homework problems that were applicable to my job and did them over and over until I felt comfortable with them. I would Google documents, watch videos, over the fundamentals of pipe and pump systems, and read over documentation from similar projects from around the world. For the first couple of weeks that’s all I did, until I felt I was competent in the work. After all of the research, I would do all the math on paper, then double check it with a software tool. For a final sanity check, I would email a mentor of mine who lives in Texas and does this kind of work for a living, just so I had someone I could lean on. 

But isn’t this what engineering is all about? Having limited resources and then figuring out how to reach a goal within the constraints. The fact is, I graduate college in a year. And after college, there are going to be things that I am not trained for that I’m going to have to learn without guidance. The only thing that stops you from learning is not having access to information. Just take it from me, if you want to learn something, it is possible. Only I had to travel 10,000 miles to figure that out! One last note, if you ever have the chance to work or volunteer overseas, I would recommend it. It turns out there is a big world out there.

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  • Cary  Sneider

    Posted 11 months and 2 weeks ago

    Hi, TC. Thanks so much for your very inspiring message! It is clear the engineering is not for the faint-hearted; but it IS for people who care about the well-being of others, and who are willing to learn and trust in their own capabilities. I would like all of my students to read your story.
    • Phillip  Coleman

      Posted 11 months, 1 week and 4 days ago

      Thank you very much. The only reason I survived there is because I had some resources and support back here in the States.
  • Linda  Kekelis

    Posted 11 months, 2 weeks and 1 day ago

    TC--thanks for sharing your personal account of your work as a Technical Wash Specialist. I never knew of such a position. Your honest account of what you didn't know at the beginning and how challenging that was is a gift to readers of your blog. Getting comfortable with not knowing and not being afraid to admit it and asking for help are important lessons for us all--for kids in middle school tackling new and challenging subject matter, to college freshman struggling through a challenging course, to adults taking on new projects. We can learn from your example that there are plenty of people ready and eager to help (if we ask) and plenty of resources online (if we know how to search and have resources to access them).

    Good luck in your senior year. I hope you continue to share your experiences on your journey in your studies and career.
    • Phillip  Coleman

      Posted 11 months, 1 week and 4 days ago

      Honestly, the only way to learn is from first asking a question. How can you come up with a solution without there being a question first?