15 February 2012

Where are they now?

AguaClara alumni reflect on life after Cornell and their experiences with AguaClara

AguaClara attracts a variety of students every semester, who each come and leave with unique experiences. When asked about their experience with AguaClara at Cornell, alumni offered insight into what the program personally meant to them and how it has influenced the courses of their lives.

Although Cornell’s diverse AguaClara alumni have ventured into various fields since participating in the program, they seem to have a consensus of opinion. Of those interviewed, all expressed an appreciation for AguaClara and the positive influence it had on their time at Cornell as well as their perspective on life and work.

To Alissa Dimnich, who spent her first few semesters on the design team and her last as a student team leader, AguaClara was unique because “you and your team’s decisions affected real life situation ... It’s not your standard textbook problem solving.” Dimnich now works with GHD, an engineering consulting firm, in Cazenovia, NY, mostly on wastewater treatment plant upgrade projects.

"It’s not your standard textbook problem solving."

Other alumni may not have continued specifically with water related work, but AguaClara’s influence can still be seen in their lives.

Peter Crysdale, who graduated in 2006, worked on AutoCAD modeling and contributed to design. For Crysdale, the annual trip to the Honduras was the highlight of his experience with AguaClara. There, the project was no longer “theoretical or technical;” it was “a project that actually related to the real world, that had practical, lasting implications.” He learned about the culture of the Honduras and the daily needs of the people, which is a crucial part of the program’s success because the water treatment plants are individually designed for the communities that will be using them for years to come.

AguaClara worked its influence further into Crysdale’s life after graduation, encouraging him to spend three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa, where he worked primarily on agriculture projects.

AguaClara’s not-for-profit nature appeals to those who appreciate the opportunity to simply help others. Patrick Farnham, who started working with AguaClara in the fall of 2009 and continued until the fall of 2012, found that the trip to Honduras put him in perspective for his upcoming move to New York for work. Knowing he was soon headed to work for a multinational environmental engineering firm, Farnham took the trip as time to remind himself not to become “unhealthily absorbed into the for-profit world for the rest of [his] life.”

The program has seen many faces come and go, but no matter where AguaClara’s former students have found themselves, they say working on AguaClara’s program has influenced their perspectives tremendously. Alumni look back with favorable eyes, appreciating the chance to work on “solving a problem over the course of entire semesters, years, and in some cases, probably lifetimes.”

by Grace Seo