Before college, Jessica Damicis (’15) never left the country. Today the 23-year-old has traveled to six countries on three continents, lived and studied in Spain, interned in Kenya and built a wastewater treatment system in Guatemala.
The University of Rhode Island civil and environmental engineering student from Richmond, R.I. says foreign cultures always appealed to her. Yet, she never had the chance to explore them before coming to URI and enrolling in its International Engineering Program. The five-year program allows students to pursue degrees in engineering and a foreign language simultaneously.
“I was always so curious about things going on outside of New England because I had never seen it,” she says. “It always intrigued me.”
Originally an education major with plans to be a teacher, Damicis realized she wanted a career where she could use math and science, which she enjoys. Two weeks into her first semester, she switched to engineering. She later added a Spanish major as part of the International Engineering Program and never looked back.
In 2012, the program brought her to Spain. She spent a semester studying at the University of Cantabria and then six months interning at Lur Geroa, an environmental engineering company. As an intern, she digitally mapped trails that weave through mountains and provide shortcuts to residents traveling among villages.
During her stay, she quickly became immersed in the culture. Her courses were in Spanish, she ate at local restaurants, enjoyed the local entertainment and traveled. Her 20-minute commute showed her the daily routine of the nation and her internship put her directly alongside Spanish engineers.
“I felt I was really living the life of a Spanish person,” Damicis says.
Two years later, her fluency in Spanish put her in a leadership position in Guatemala. As part of a team of engineering students, Damicis helped a rural school install a sustainable wastewater treatment system under the guidance of engineering Associate Professor Vinka Oyanedel-Craver. As the only URI student fluent in Spanish, she took charge of directing the residents during construction and, along with Oyanedel-Craver, taught high school students about its design.
It was her second trip to Guatemala, having traveled there in the summer of 2011 on one of the initial URI trips to the country. The summer before she was halfway around the world in Kenya as an intern with the URI Coastal Fellows Program. In Africa, she undertook preliminary topographic surveys and infiltration tests for the implementation of a rainwater harvesting system.
Today, Damicis is an intern in Paris at Bouygues, a global engineering and construction firm. She’s shadowing engineers and, when not working, exploring Europe.
When she returns to campus in September 2014 Damicis will assume the presidency of the college’s chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World, which helped organize the trips to Guatemala. She’ll also complete her final year of courses. Beyond that, Damicis is keeping her options open but eying a return to South America.
“I would love to work in Latin America,” she says. “I’m intrigued by the culture.”