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Civil Meets World

September 17, 2014

(Writen by Kathryna Clarke author of "The Jetsetting Jamaican")

About Me

Saludos todos! My name is Kathryna Clarke. I am senior civil engineering major at Northeastern that is currently doing an environmental evaluation co-op with the Panama Canal Authority. My concentration in environmental has led me to be wildly interested in water/wastewater infrastructure, treatment and technologies. I was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and I have lived in England before coming to the United States. This is my third co-op before graduating in May 2015. My future plans include to find a job (hopefully) as a design and field engineer and eventually get my Masters in water resource engineering and environmental policy. 

Co-op Abroad in Panama

It is common to hear that engineering students do not go abroad to do co-op, which in some respect, is true. I believe it is the misconception about a lack of opportunities. I too, was skeptical, but much to my surprise, when I started this process in October 2013, there is a plethora of opportunities available for engineering students to investigate and apply for.

Through the international co-op office, and with the support of Ms. Lois Brunet, who is the new engineering advisor for international co-op, I was able to apply to several opportunities around the world from Italy to Peru. However, I settled on Panama due to several reasons: I wanted to work in a country that had similar origins to my own. I wanted to be able to improve my Spanish. They were very accommodating in terms of my interests. And, the Panama Canal? Kind of a no brainer. It is such a mind-blowing engineering feat, and with the backdrop 100 years of operation and the expansion project set to be completed in early 2016, there is no better time to be here.

photo: Panama Canal Authority

To be quite frank, I had no idea what to expect coming to Panama. My only hope was that I would be doing environmental field work, and hopefully some design. My past co-ops were both vastly different - I worked as a surveyor at a municipal organization and as an assistant estimator at a design-build contractor.  Having been here for officially six weeks, I do not regret my decision to come. The environmental division - under the Vice-Presidency of Energy, Water and Environment – is responsible for maintaining the environmental standard for Canal operations, and the protection and management of the Canal watershed. This watershed is where water originates for daily Canal operation, its potable water provisions and its thermo-electric power generation. The division has numerous initiatives that promote these duties, as well as provide community environmental education and enrichment through promoting reforestation efforts, sustainable agriculture and capacity building. A daunting task, but they are up to the challenge.

My work day varies – some days, I am in the office doing research on a waste management services, or looking at suppliers of rainwater harvesting system components; on other days I assist doing a boat site survey of flora and fauna. This past week, my colleagues and I went in search of a leaky oil containment that needs to be remediated. Back in the office, I am trying to do material volume calculations to help determine exactly how much this site remediation project is going to cost.  

I am learning more than I could anticipate, but the part I like most of all is that it is interdisciplinary. The Canal is a grand organization that employs almost 10,000 people.  I work with environmental specialists, risk assessment managers, biologists, botanists, solid waste experts, and engineers. To me, engineering is not about a “one size fits all” solution, we are problem solvers and collaborators, and what better way is there to do that?

My two biggest pieces of advice to anyone who is doubting going on an international co-op or just any international opportunity – whether it is a dialogue or a study abroad, are one, do not doubt yourself or hesitate, apply NOW. You have nothing to lose but your pre-conceived notions of the world and everything to gain. Second, I would recommend also to not go in expecting the moon. It is unrealistic to expect that every day will be a walk in the park, because it will not be. Unlike just travelling, you do have to go to work every day. Some days will be boring, others will be exciting and others will be routine, but it is up to you to have the right attitude.

So, in your arsenal for applying internationally, I recommend:

  • A healthy dose of patience for this international co-op process is not for the faint of heart, it will take some time – your friends WILL get co-ops before you, but it will be worth the wait
  • An open, receptive mind – you will need this to experience new cultures, new people and make new memories
  • A pair of comfortable walking shoes
  • Your smile
  • Duolingo to practice your language skills
  • A good camera because you will want to take pictures of everything
  • Luck for your co-op search!

Buena suerte, amigos! If you are interested in what I get up to, feel free to follow my blog at "The Jetsetting Jamaican"