What’s Next: Water Sanitation in Panama
When Joanna Lewis ’17 was thinking about what she would do with her newly minted degree in environmental engineering, she didn’t turn to a big firm or local municipality. She joined the Peace Corps.
In July, Lewis leaves for Panama, a country, she says, that came with the job description. “I was looking for a job where I could use my environmental engineering skills and that happened to be in Panama,” Lewis says, adding that a desire to become fluent in Spanish drew her to Latin America.
Her interest in environmental issues was groomed while she was in high school; engineering classes were part of the curriculum. “I had the opportunity to take engineering for three years — we all had to take tech classes. I took engineering and found out I really liked it,” Lewis says.
That foundation led her to connect with the UNH chapter of Engineers Without Borders when she was a freshman. She has since been part of a team that has traveled to Peru three times to work on a project that will bring clean drinking water to the rural mountain community of San Pedro de Casta.
“Working with Engineers Without Borders introduced me to doing development work in places that really need the help, and I really fell in love with how practical and actionable every decision you make has to be and how creative you have to be working with so many design constraints,” Lewis says.
The Maryland resident also learned that visiting the community once a year wasn’t enough for her. She wanted the work to be ongoing, to witness the progress, to be a part of that.
“I really liked the idea of living in the community like I will with the Peace Corps,” Lewis says of her decision to join the volunteer organization. “I hope it will lead to more sustainable and integrated community-driven projects. Whether that’s establishing a water supply or cleaning an existing one, I have no idea. But I’m looking forward to whatever role I’ll play.”