Student Feature – Aaron Opdyke

Aaron OpdykeAaron Opdyke

PhD Civil Engineering, Construction Engineering and Management

EDC Certificate Completion: December 2014

Undergraduate: Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, B.S. Civil Engineering

What are your hobbies outside of academic life?

I love to get outdoors in my free time, whether that be hiking, backpacking, camping, diving, climbing, snowboarding, running or biking. Boulder has been a great place to experience the best of each of these activities.

How did you become interested in global development?

Since an early age I’ve always had an interest in pursuing engineering. When I started my undergraduate degree in civil engineering, I felt that my skills could best be applied to solving infrastructure challenges in the developing world. During my freshman year, I quickly became involved in Engineers Without Borders-USA which led me down the path I’m pursuing today.

Why did you join the EDC program?

As the end of my undergraduate approached, I quickly realized that my passion for engineering in developing communities was a start, but I needed to further develop my skills if I was to succeed in this field. In particular, I felt that my undergraduate education had prepared me with a solid technical background, but I was missing the skills needed to understand the social and economic challenges that are inherently intertwined in engineered solutions. When I was searching for graduate programs, the Mortenson Center really stood out with its curriculum and faculty. It is one of the only programs that merges engineering and development topics in graduate coursework. I was sold when I learned about the practicum element of the program and ability to connect with organizations in the field.

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learned from the EDC program?

This is such hard question to answer because there is so much I have learned in my tenure in the EDC program. If I had to narrow it down, I would have to say learning about the historical context of development and progress that has been made over the last several decades. We often take for granted the manner in which development programs are structured. Understanding historical trends greatly illuminates how current practice has emerged. As we continue to make progress and try innovative new approaches, I think it is essential to understand development theory and the past. I believe this is just one element that makes EDC stand out from other graduate programs.

Where did you complete your practicum?

In the summer of 2014 I completed my practicum with Build Change in the Philippines. Working as a field engineer, I assisted in providing structural recommendations for housing reconstruction following Super Typhoon Yolanda, the strongest recorded storm in history, which made landfall in November of 2013. My work helped to analyze proposed building designs and assess the use of coconut lumber as a building material. Additionally, my role was to assist in the development of residential design and construction guidelines that were distributed to international organization and government agencies. It was a great experience and I was fortunate to work along-side some incredible local staff.

What do you hope to do after completing your EDC certificate?

After I complete my doctorate this year, I plan to pursue a path towards becoming a practitioner in humanitarian response. I believe much of what I have learned through my graduate studies and the EDC program can assist in improving how we deliver services in disaster response and recovery. I would like to work for USAID, the World Bank or another development organization, providing cross-sector shelter strategy for post-disaster reconstruction. Alternatively, in the right context, I am also interested in continuing in academia to educate future generations of engineers in construction and humanitarian topics.

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