Feature Stories 2015: Casey Snook: Service trip to Panama

Casey Snook standing beside sign, 200x200
Casey Snook on the road to Valle Las Perlas, Panama.
Feature Stories 2015: Casey Snook: Service trip to Panama
Casey Snook: Service trip to Panama

Casey Snook '16 travelled to Valle Las Perlas, Panama, this August as part of Engineers Without Borders' ongoing project to rehabilitate the village's water distribution center.

Year: Class of 2016
Major: Civil Engineering
Minor: Music
Hometown: Merrimac, MA
Service: Vice president of Engineers Without Borders
Internships: AECOM, TechLaw
Next steps: International study and travel

Civil Engineering and music

Music and engineering might not seem like they have a lot in common, but for me, the combination helped me find my calling. I credit my involvement with world music for helping me realize I want to work internationally.

Being heavily involved in the music department’s world music opportunities revived my love for culture and travel and helped me decide on my major.

I decided to follow in my dad’s—as well as many other family members’—footsteps and study civil engineering. Civil engineering has been a great fit for me. Everything started to fall into place when I took my core civil engineering classes. I especially love water and environmental classes.

Focus on world music

At UMass Dartmouth, we’re extremely lucky to have a strong focus in ethnomusicology—world music studies—at the undergraduate level.

I play with the Javanese Gamelan ensemble, a beautiful orchestra from Indonesia. I’m also a member of the Trinidadian Steel Drum Ensemble and Percussion Ensemble and have been exposed to Indian classical music, Korean drumming, and Filipino kulintang.‌‌‌

Travel to Ghana

I’m vice president of the Kekeli West African Drumming and Dance Ensemble. I had the opportunity to travel to Mampong, Ghana, West Africa to study the music where it originated.

I took lessons from master drummers and dancers and volunteered teaching math and science at an elementary school while I was there. I had the incredible experience of going with my class on a field trip to the town water supply.

Engineers Without Borders

This is the third year I’ve been involved with Engineers Without Borders (EWB), and my second as vice president.

Working with EWB is what I consider the trial version of my future career, and I know my involvement with the group will be a springboard into the world of international development.

Surveying and water testing in Panama

While we were in Panama, we did a series of water testing and land surveying studies. We also met with community members, the village water board, and the Panamanian Ministry of Health. I also had a chance to practice surveying and water testing procedures in the field, which was a great experience.

The trip reconfirmed that working in the international development field is what I’m meant for. I learned a lot about how the kind of project functions.

Lessons learned in the developing country

Working in this environment develops your patience and teaches you to think outside the box about how to solve problems and get things done in a timely manner. You learn to improvise with everything, such as boiling water testing kit materials as a sterilization method.

Another important thing I learned from the project was that you have to let the stress of problems roll off your back while solving them.

You learn to be happy when things aren’t perfect and to go with the flow. This can be hard sometimes because in the developed world, we often lose sight of this with our time-driven schedules and constant running.

But in the developing world, people set the great example of spending time on the things that matter and not worrying about the rest.‌

Challenges and benefits of the Panama project

One challenge I faced was the language barrier. I never formally studied Spanish. I wasn’t able to communicate details, but when you’re in a foreign situation like that, you sink or swim. Communication is very possible, and bridging that gap is one of my favorite things about travelling.

The challenges I faced seem small compared to what I got out of the trip. Looking back, the hardest part was saying goodbye. The village is green and beautiful, and the people of Valle las Perlas are incredible, warm-hearted people who were there for us every step of the way, from feeding us to being our machete-wielding guides through the jungle.

They went above and beyond to make us feel included in their space and culture, such as cutting fresh cacao from the trees for us to eat and teaching us how to make coconut oil from scratch.

I had the time of my life, and I can’t wait to go back.

Internships in engineering and science

This summer, I was a water resources engineering intern for AECOM, a global infrastructure company. I mostly worked on a water resources project located in Queens, New York.

I had the opportunity to assist one of the managers in the development sector and investigate the contracting work AECOM does with USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

I’ve also worked as a biology toxicity lab technician intern at TechLaw, a company that does contracting work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The future: international study and travel

I’m currently applying for a Fulbright grant that will allow me to research in India for a year after I graduate. Although the competition is competitive, it’s been a great experience to apply and it’s something I will continue to work towards in the future.

I’m planning to live abroad for at least a year and backpack around the world.

Dream job: water resources engineer

It’s my dream to be a water resources and quality engineer and international development specialist in the developing world.

I would love to work for AECOM or a similar company with a broad global focus in their development sector. Eventually, I want to work for an aid organization, non-profit, or non-governmental organization. My ideal job is a WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) officer for UNICEF, the United Nations Children Fund.

I plan to continue my studies at a graduate level and obtain my master’s degree and, hopefully, my PhD. I also plan on becoming a licensed professional engineer.

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