Rockets to Roads

Junior Dean Chahim, far left, working with community members in Bolivia to improve a washed-out road. Dean, who’s volunteering near Yakima this summer to raise awareness about dirty wells, was working with the UW chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

From Rockets to Roads

Dean Chahim always dreamed of building rockets. And when he was accepted into the UW College of Engineering, he felt he’d taken one giant leap toward making that dream a reality.

But at an Engineers Without Borders conference sponsored by the UW, Dean learned of an opportunity to travel to Bolivia to help repair rural roads. “We worked on the only road to markets, clinics and schools,” says the UW junior. “We were helping, but I realized our repairs would only last so long. And I thought, I could design rockets — but why, when we can’t even apply simple technologies to make life better for people?”

Dean changed his focus from rockets to international development and managed the Bolivia roads project’s second phase. A Mary Gates Leadership Scholarship allowed him to research development organizations in Nicaragua. There his perspective shifted again. “I didn’t want to restrict myself to going abroad. Change also needs to happen here at home.”

Dean is double-majoring in development studies and civil engineering with a focus on the link between water resources and equity. He is now volunteering with the Northwest Justice Project. “There’s a lot of bacteria and nitrates in wells near Yakima, and this creates serious health hazards, so we’ll be going door to door to get the word out,” Dean says. “These wells primarily affect low-income Latinos — and they are not always aware of the problems or remedies.”

The opportunity to directly help people, whether in South America or Eastern Washington, is one of the things Dean loves about the UW. “No amount of study can prepare you for actually working with people — it’s amazingly powerful, and it has changed me tremendously.”

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