Zachary Aaronson: Professional & personal learning experience in Panama

Engineers Without Borders President Zachary Aaronson '16 traveled with the group to Panama in an ongoing effort to provide safe drinking water to the village of Valle Las Perlas.

Zachary Aaronson being awarded the Jonathan Blake Waxler Memorial Award for Social Justice.

Year: Class of 2016
Major: Civil & Environmental Engineering
Minor: Business Administration
Hometown: Dartmouth, MA
Awards: Corsair Spirit Award & Jonathan Blake Waxler Memorial Award for Social Justice
Leadership: Engineers Without Borders (EWB) president
Internships: Massachusetts Department of Transportation, construction division; CDM Smith, water resources/environmental engineering department
Next steps: Master's degree in Water Resources Management or Environmental Engineering

Goal of providing safe drinking water

As a group, we were able to complete an elevation survey of potential routes for drinking water tap stands and extensive water quality testing. We involved the local government in the overall project and created a detailed diagram of the village’s current water supply system.

Accomplishing these tasks furthered our group’s goal of providing safe drinking water to the whole community.

This was the fourth trip the EWB group made to Valle Las Perlas. Each time the group deploys for another phase of the project, more and more is learned about the people, the site, and the needs within the community.

Professional & personal learning experience

Leading this trip, I gained valuable technical experience in water quality testing, surveying, community organization, and managing people/resources. I applied concepts I learned in the classroom to a real world problem. These are skills I can readily utilize in my professional career.

Personally, I've gained significant perspective and appreciation on just how privileged life is here in the United States. It’s been a humbling experience that not all students gain while in college.

Panama is a beautiful country, and this village is no exception. This was my second trip to Valle Las Perlas, so there weren't too many things that surprised me this time.

However, during both trips, I've been in awe and inspired by the happiness of the people living in the village. They live life simply. They don't have much, including times when they don't even have drinking water, but they always seem to be happy and content. I admire that.

Zachary Aaronson taking a water sample.

Advice for engineering students

EWB is one of the few organizations on campus where you can actually contribute, in real time, to the immediate enhancement of people's daily lives. Everything we do in EWB can be used to develop one’s professional career, whether practical application of technical skills and concepts, or by way of invaluable human relations skills and global awareness.

While involvement could merely be a college student’s resume builder, EWB quickly becomes so much more. Once I realized how much impact I could make, even as a college student, in the Valle Las Perlas community, it was a pretty easy decision to become fully committed to the project. 

Plans for graduate study 

This particular project has guided and solidified my future career plan. After graduating, I hope to pursue a master's degree in engineering in Water Resources Management or Environmental Engineering.

More information

College of Engineering: Civil & Environmental Engineering

Charlton College of Business: Business Administration

News: Engineering students travel to Panama with civic engagement focus

Engineers Without Borders at UMassD


College of Engineering, Features - Leadership & Service, Features - Commencement