Spotlight: Chase Spencer
This week we are spotlighting a member of Utah State University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders - Chase Spencer.
Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: “Never, never, never give up” - Robert Spencer (my father) and Winston Churchill
Q: Where are you from? Why did you choose USU?
A: I was born in Seattle, but claim Salt Lake City as my home. I originally chose to come to Utah State because it is close to the mountains and offered me a scholarship.
Q: What is a phobia you have?
A: Dr. Taylor’s exams.
Q: How did you hear about EWB and why did you join the club?
A: I first heard about EWB from the posters hanging up in the Engineering building. I thought it would be fun to see what their meetings were like (not to mention take advantage of the free food at their opening social) and know if there was a possibility of me traveling with them. The idea of designing something and implementing it in another country was very appealing. I found their biofilter project particularly interesting and before long I was contributing significantly to their designs.
Q: What year in school are you and what is your major? What made you want to go into that field?
A: I’m a senior in biological engineering. I believe there are problems in the world that can only could be solved through an intersection of medicine and engineering. The challenges that the field faces are both daunting and exhilarating. I love the way biological engineering demands versatility and an ability to critically think and communicate across multiple disciplines.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: After graduation I plan on being accepted to a masters program in biomedical engineering with an emphasis in medical device design.
Q: What is your dream job and why?
A: My dream job is one in which I can work in an interdisciplinary team to continually explore new ways to improve medical systems or methods. I enjoy working with people who have different perspectives and backgrounds from me.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories from being a part of EWB?
A: On the first day in the community during our last trip to Mexico, Javier (the man whose family I stayed with), offered me a variety of small peppers from his garden. Thinking he didn’t believe we could stomach them and being willing to always try something new, I started eating them raw one by one. I don’t need to tell you that they were extremely hot. When he came back and saw that I had been eating them raw he exclaimed, “You’re supposed to put them in a tortilla with the goat cheese, you idiot!” He was right of course, which I realized after not being able to see straight for several minutes.
Our last trip was during the rainy season and the river had swollen. Some days you couldn’t cross the river at all even though it had been bone dry during previous EWB trips. So once while I was stranded on the other side of the river I borrowed a horse from one of the families and used it to cross. I enjoy riding horses but riding bareback across the swollen river in rural Mexico was definitely a highlight.
One night a baby mouse fell from the roof onto my friend Goyo who was sleeping next to me on a cot. It was very early in the morning and we couldn’t understand where the squeaking was coming from so we went back to sleep. The next morning he was astonished to find he had spent most of the night with an unannounced friend in his sleeping bag!
We also enjoy all of the EWB workshops that the team does here at the university. Designing, building, and destroying failed concrete filter prototypes off the dock of the engineering lab building is a lot of fun. The work we do with Outreach to local elementary schools is also very gratifying.
Q: Have you ever eaten anything weird on your past EWB trips?
A: While working on the well monitoring system in Mexico, the local well manager and I had some free time to kill. He took my knife, plucked off a few pieces of ripe cactus and we carefully extracted the fruit from them for about an hour. The small unseen hair-like spines on the fruit wouldn’t have gone down smoothly. They tasted like inverted pomegranate seeds: mushy on the outside with a crunchy seed in the middle.
Q: Why is EWB such an important and influential group?
A: As engineering students at the university, we do a lot of design. However, not all of those designs actually get implemented or impact peoples lived directly. In the community of La Salitrera, where the Mexico team works, there are serious water quality issues of high chloroform counts and arsenic levels. These issues are serious. If the children in the community grow up with the current levels of arsenic (which is a new development in their well system) then they’ll have serious risks of cancer and other diseases. As students, the designs and work we do directly translates to making their lives better. This is not a “desk job” kind of club. We are hands-on and continually building prototypes and improving our designs because they make a difference. EWB gives students an opportunity to give back to the world and expand their perspective and skill set.
Q: What have you learned from being a part of EWB that will continue to help you after graduation?
A: I’ve learned how to work on an interdisciplinary team with varying opinions and ideas. We write a lot of technical reports in order to go on these trips which is very important to practice now as engineering students. I’ve also learned how to design for the needs of a specific customer and how to communicate my designs to them (even in another language). The technical and humanitarian nature of these projects are worthy of any student’s time.
Q: Where do you see the club in a few years and how can it be improved?
A: In a few years I see the club growing and creating an even greater impact in the communities it works with. The current team is more than double the size it was last year and this has lead to a flood of new ideas and improved efficiency. The club is carried on the backs of enthusiastic students and dedicated faculty mentors. Over the next few years I know we’ll see the ingenuity of students and guidance of experienced faculty applied to real problems and many new projects - not to mention seeing a real change in the health and stability of the communities we work with.
Q: Why should people join EWB?
A: All students, whether they are engineers or not, can benefit from EWB. If you want to expand your skill set by working with an interdisciplinary team, make meaningful memories as a student, connect with faculty and industry professionals, travel to exotic countries, and simply give back to the world then EWB is for you.
Q: If you had a pet alpaca, what would you name it?
A: Kuzco. I know he was a llama but enough said.