29 July 2014

New Cornell Engineers Send-off

This summer, AguaClara LLC hired two fresh Cornell graduates to join the team in Honduras in designing and implementing the technologies being developed on campus. Jon Christensen and Walker Grimshaw flew to Honduras to begin their year-long assignment this past Monday, July 28th. Before they left, I interviewed them individually and asked them a few questions about their thoughts on the journey.

Jon Christensen, M.Eng. 2014

Tell me about yourself.
My name is Jon Christensen and I’m from Minnesota. I just completed a Masters of Engineering degree here at Cornell, and while I was here, I worked on the Turbulent Tube Flocculator team on the AguaClara research group. I’m going down to Honduras for a year and I’m excited to have the chance to keep working with AguaClara.

Why did you want to go to Honduras with AguaClara?
I wanted to go to Honduras because I have a math, physics, and environmental engineering background. In my career, I want to do work that applies those skills and also helps people in providing clean drinking water, so working in Honduras was a perfect way to do that all that once.

What are you doing in Honduras?
In Honduras, I’ll be working with the people of Agua Para el Pueblo (APP), the people building the AguaClara plants. Both Walker and I will be the hydraulic experts assisting them in the construction of treatment plants while we’re down there.

How do you feel about the transition from lab work on campus to field work in Honduras?
I went to Honduras for two weeks last January and saw some of the large treatment plants there. I got to see the San Nicolรกs treatment plant while it was being built. I've been exposed to the plants and the conditions there, so I think it will be an easy transition even though the types of work I will be doing will be very different between researching the theory behind these treatment technologies versus actually implementing the technologies and building the plants.

What are you most excited about?
I think I’m most excited about experiencing a new culture. The weather is going to be much better than it is in Ithaca, and I think the food will be fun to experience. We experienced [on the January trip] that the people are very welcoming. I’m excited about that too.

Are you nervous about anything?
The thing I am most nervous about is communicating with people. My Spanish is pretty basic at the moment with a lot to learn, so it will be challenging to communicate with people right off the bat.

Will you be taking Spanish lessons?
Yes, when I get there, I’ll take at least a week of an intensive Spanish course, possibly longer. That’ll definitely help me work in Spanish.


Walker Grimshaw, B.S. 2014
Who are you?
I am Walker Grimshaw. I just graduated from Cornell with a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering in May.

Why are you interested in working in Honduras?
Initially, I was just planning on going to graduate school, but when I went on the annual January trip to Honduras with 20-25 other Cornell students, I saw what they had to offer and spoke to Monroe in the spring about the possibility of working down there. It just seemed to be the sort of opportunity that doesn't present itself very often, something that I can take advantage of as a twenty-something year old and that I can not only learn a lot from but hopefully also contribute a lot to.

What will you be doing there?
[Jon] and I are both essentially replacing Drew’s presence on the ground. Drew is the current engineer that works down in Honduras who was a student here at Cornell and did the AguaClara program. We will be doing maintenance and updates of the plants that have already been in operation for a few years as well as finding new projects and monitoring construction and helping out with a very specific hydraulic design of new projects.
Myself specifically, I will be working very closely with the foam filtration team at Cornell on a pilot project in Honduras for foam filtration, which is our newest technology for small communities less than 1000 people.

What are you most excited about?
With regards to living abroad, I have done a few fairly short trips to other countries and I've loved them. I’m really excited to go down and have a very different sort of life. It’s also what I’m most scared or anxious about. Things will be very different then they have been especially having lived in the “Cornell bubble” for the last 3 years and going to not even just a city but a city where I sort of speak the language. It will be very different, so I’m excited but apprehensive.

How is your Spanish?

I am confident conversationally, but that is about it. Since I graduated a month and a half ago, I've been trying to practice my Spanish a fair amount and get it back to where it was when I was taking Spanish courses. Pretty early on in the process we’ll have the opportunity to take some intensive Spanish courses. Then it will just be a matter of getting out of the house every so often and speak with people I’m working with and people outside of work in social settings. That will really improve my Spanish more than anything.


Walker and Jon, we wish you the best of luck for your time in Honduras!