April 10, 2013
Aaron Opdyke, president of the Cal Poly student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), has been named the 2013 recipient of the Student Founders’ Award by EWB-USA.
The award, announced during Engineers Week in February, acknowledges the exceptional efforts of individual members in leading their regions’ or chapters’ work on sustainable engineering projects in developing countries.
“Aaron has been described as having a calm leadership style that inspires camaraderie and collaboration,” said Cathy Leslie, EWB-USA executive director. “His leadership style has been noted as not only having a great effect within his campus chapter, but also helping to focus on understanding the overseas community partners’ priorities and gaining critical trust and credibility with those communities.”
Last year, following Opdyke’s first term as president, the Cal Poly chapter was recognized as the National Premier Student Chapter by EWB-USA.
"One of the main reasons I was drawn to Cal Poly was its strong Engineers Without Borders chapter, and I haven’t been disappointed,” said Opdyke. “I wanted to find a way to apply my engineering skills to global projects that had a meaningful impact – and EWB was that answer.”
Now a civil engineering senior, Opdyke co-founded EWB-Cal Poly’s India program during his first year of college, and led the team on its initial assessment trip as a project manager. He has also worked extensively with the design and implementation of wastewater treatment facilities for this program, traveling on two trips. He is currently serving his second term as president for the Cal Poly chapter where he oversees projects in Nicaragua, Thailand and India.
“Engineers Without Borders has expanded my experiences beyond the classroom and transformed how I see the world,” said Opdyke.
“Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing atmosphere presented me with the chance to work with a community in northern India where I could put my skills into practice. I found myself solving multidisciplinary, real-world problems across cultures. The work has been extremely challenging and diverse, but unbelievably rewarding. At the end of the day, you can see the people’s lives you’ve changed. That’s what Learn by Doing is all about."
This fall, Opdyke will begin graduate studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder in civil engineering, with an emphasis in engineering in developing communities.
“I'm hoping to continue my work in the humanitarian sector, specifically looking at disaster reconstruction,” he said.
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Photo: Aaron Opdyke (right) with a concrete laborer who helped oversee construction of wastewater treatment facilities that will protect the environment and safeguard the health of the villagers in the tiny community of Sainji, India, located in the foothills of the Himalayas.