Whitney Steed in Peru carrying a young Peruvian girl on her back

Whitney Steed

Chemical Engineering, Senior

What did you learn in your international experience?

There truly is something to learn from everyone. Even though the students and professors had more formal education than the people we were working with, many Peruvians had great ideas that none of us had thought of after eight months of working on the project. With an open mind, we were shown a completely new way of thinking and approaching our specific projects but also life in general.

The thing about culture is that you can read, study, watch and hear about a certain people, but you will never really know what it’s like until you go there and experience it for yourself.

Being in Peru shifted a lot of my paradigms about people who live in poverty throughout the world. These are real people with strength and intellect. Even though they have a lot less than I do, they are still people with many wonderful traits and attitudes that I would like to emulate. Their humility and positive attitude towards life as well as their strong bonds with each other are valuable things that have decreased in American culture. The attitude of always needing to get ahead can’t be found in small villages. This makes the people teachable and grateful. Watching the people get excited was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip.

The greatest lesson that I learned throughout the yearlong class and my actual time in Peru was that I can actually use my engineering skills to help other people. Designing for a culture that I didn’t understand very well was difficult and frustrating but also immensely rewarding.

Something else that I learned from my time in Peru, is that engineering concepts apply worldwide. I don’t know any Spanish so I couldn’t communicate verbally, but engineering is something that can be shown and understood despite language barriers. Every culture and person knows something about engineering, even if they are unaware that what they are saying and understanding is actually engineering.

 

What have you learned about engineering and your future career?

Engineering is something that you can learn to enjoy when you know that you’re doing it for someone else and making a positive impact on their life. Knowing this gives motivation far stronger than just getting good grades or snatching the highest paying job; it makes me want to do better because I know that someone else will need my skills.

One thing that engineering has taught me is that I am worth something. I can do a lot of good and if I work hard, I can make a real difference.