Hajim Spotlights

Fernando Suarez

Class year: 2018
Major: Mechanical Engineering (ME)
Challenge: Provide Access to Clean water

How did you hear about the Grand Challenges program?

I heard about it through Dean Lisa Norwood and Engineers Without Borders. We were tabling in September at the Activities Fair and she came up to us and told us about it. She said we should look into it because we fulfill a lot of the criteria.

Why did you decide to apply for the Grand Challenges program?

I joined Engineers Without Borders my first semester of sophomore year and I spent a lot of time with the club. Being able to get some sort of school recognition for all that work was something that I was interested in. Personally, being able to provide someone with access to clean water is something I’m very passionate about. I’m from Mexico, and there, clean water is not as simple as just turning on the faucet. I wanted to be able to share this experience through this program.

Which of the five “competencies” (research, interdisciplinary, entrepreneurship/innovation, global, service) did you most enjoy completing? Why?

The global experience. I had the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic with Engineers Without Borders on the implementation trip in January 2017, and the monitoring trip in January 2018. I got to go and experience the impact of the project, after putting it together for the first time after years of planning. We were able to see the impact of this project after one year of being used. Seeing the community using it, being very happy and grateful, and healthy with clean water, was definitely a fantastic experience.

Do you think you will want to continue working in the field of your “challenge” after graduation? How?

I’m a mechanical engineering major but one of the fields I’m very interested in is fluid mechanics. Being in Engineers Without Borders sparked my interest in this field because we were looking into pumps and pump design. I actually want to go to graduate school after graduation to continue my studies in fluid dynamics. I’m not particularly going into pursuing clean water, but my interest in the general field of fluid dynamics was sparked by my experience in Engineering Without Borders.

You were able to have most, if not all, of your competencies completed by this year before applying to be a Grand Challenges Scholar. How did being at the University of Rochester help you to complete this program?

The U of R has the Engineers Without Borders chapter here; that was definitely a big part of my experience. The Hajim School and the departments of mechanical engineering and biomechanical engineering have supported the Engineers Without Borders club for years, and the school has been supportive of us trying to get this project pushed forward.

For you, what is the value of the Grand Challenges program?

It gives you a big picture view of how things are. For instance, the global aspect—you get to see how people live in a place different from yours. You get to experience other views and backgrounds. You get to see how different people are, but in the end, we’re all looking for the same thing. We all need clean water. This program gives an understanding of how we all are the same, how we need the same things to survive, and how we can help each other to achieve this.

Doing the Grand Challenges program has helped me grow as a student and apply my engineering skills. It has given me an opportunity to get skills that I can apply to jobs. And it helped me grow as a person. You learn you have to be responsible; you’re coming up with a project that’s going to affect a school of hundreds of children and have an impact on someone else’s life. You have to be mindful of what you’re doing. It has helped me understand what being an engineer is. It’s not only doing math and physics, but an opportunity to help improve somebody else’s life and make life better.