Student Uses Engineering to Help People in the Developing World

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Evan Thomas

Undergraduate
Bachelor of Science, PhD
Aerospace Engineering Sciences

When Evan Thomas was the editor of his high school newspaper, he traveled with classmates to Cuba and Vietnam to write about the lives of students outside the U.S. Those experiences have since become the foundation for a long-term commitment to helping people in the developing world.

As an engineering student, Evan has been active in the CU chapter of Engineers Without Borders. The non-profit organization founded by CU Professor Bernard Amadei sends engineering students, faculty, and other professionals to work with developing communities to meet their basic needs for water, sanitation, and energy systems.

Evan has led EWB trips to Rwanda and Nepal to help improve drinking water systems and introduce solar lighting and computer technology in poor and remote villages. He recently was awarded the Putska Scholarship for civic engagement at CU-Boulder.

Working toward a double degree in engineering and journalism, Evan often writes about his EWB projects in the engineering student publication Colorado Engineer Magazine, for which he serves as co-editor in chief.  But his goals go beyond spreading awareness about the plight of people in developing countries to making a real difference in the lives of the people he has met.

Describing a recent trip to Muramba, Rwanda when EWB volunteers helped to build two rainwater catchment systems to enhance clean water storage capacity in the poor and remote village, Evan says: "Our whole team was only 10 people, but we immediately made a difference for 700 people—that's 70 times the people who went and using a budget of only $20,000."

The EWB work is not high-tech—unlike his chosen major of aerospace engineering—because EWB teams work to implement appropriate and sustainable technologies in the communities where they work. But Evan sees the two fields as related. "They both take a lot of effort and involve going to dangerous and remote places, and you're accomplishing something because you have a dream of what you want the world to be like," he says.

Evan has found many NASA engineers who share his interest in helping people in the developing world, leading to his founding of an EWB chapter at NASA's Johnson Space Center. He has had a co-op internship at JSC alternating with the semesters he spends studying at CU-Boulder. "All these people share a dream of what they want the world to be like and they are going out to make it be that way," he says.

After earning his bachelor's and master's degrees, Evan hopes to work at NASA and continue his studies to eventually earn a PhD.  Someday, his goal is to be selected for the astronaut training program.

"As a kid, I always thought it would be cool to be an astronaut, but I never thought it was a real possibility until I came to CU," he says. "Here I learned about the great aerospace program and all the CU alumni who have become astronauts, and it became clear that it was a possibility. Of course, it's very selective," he adds, "but if I don't make it, there's still nothing I'm doing now that I'll ever regret."

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