From Engineer to Teacher, Temporarily.

Lars Folkerts is an electrical engineering intern at IPS that has worked on many of our diverse projects. Before he sets sail to start his career as a full-time engineer, he decided to take some time to travel. Naturally, we had a ton of questions to ask Lars about his summer plans. Here are a few answers he provided for us:

Q.)  What are your plans for the summer?

Lars: I will be traveling to Zambia for a month to teach at a school for the blind and vision impaired. The school was opened in 2011, in fact it’s still undergoing its original construction plans that the International NGO organized for it. It is the first school for the vision impaired in Zambia and their neighboring country Zimbabwe, and they have students of all ages coming to learn- the oldest being 30 years old.

After Zambia, I will be traveling to Nepal for two months to teach again at a standard grade school. This school was opened 15 years ago and is the first school in the rural region where it is located. Many of the students’ parents have not received a formal education of any sort.

Q.)  What’s inspiring you to pursue this experience?

Lars: I have always had a love and desire for traveling and have always wanted to do a big trip like this. I figured that now would be the best time since I just finished my Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering and I can easily take a gap during summer before I begin to tackle my career head-on.

Q.)  How do you think your experiences at IPS will help you?

Lars: There are two things that come to mind; the first is the great communication we have here. Compared to other engineers I have met, IPS engineers are able to simplify complex technical ideas into words that non-technical people can understand. Part of this comes from us closely working with clients, many of whom do not have a strong technical background. The other part of this comes from how much inter-disciplinary work goes on at IPS. We have electrical, mechanical, software, industrial design and embedded systems engineers who all work together to pinpoint and solve problems that we encounter. For example, if my design has electrical problems, I need to explain these issues to the mechanical engineers on the project to see if we can come up with the best solution. Since these interactions with other teams occur so frequently, we have become adept in finding the simplest ways to express ourselves. Taking this skill to a foreign country is invaluable since there will be a huge language barrier. I will need to find the simplest way to speak and explain myself while teaching – especially in Zambia since it is a school for the vision impaired. The only way to communicate is by spoken word.

The other great thing about IPS that will help me is the ability we have to think on our toes. We have done such a wide array of projects and we never know whose great ideas will come through our doors next. We need to educate ourselves fast when we receive a new product application. This ability to tackle any project that comes to us will definitely translate into the world of teaching abroad. I will need to adapt my lessons to their cultures and previous education levels, and will have to do it quickly.

Q.)  Are you nervous? If so, what are you most nervous about?

Lars: Yes, I am definitely nervous. Naturally, my biggest concern is safety. I think this is true when you’re going anywhere that is unfamiliar. There was an incident earlier this year at the school that I will be teaching at in Zambia where a teacher was fired. He then went around asking for donations, pocketing the money, and even managed to kidnap some of the blind students forcing them to beg on the street for money. Luckily, all of the children have been returned safely to their parents. When I hear stories like that, I think “Whoa! What did I get myself into?”

Q.)  What are you most excited about?

Lars: I am looking forward to opening my mind to other cultures and ways of life. I have been lucky to have made many friends while studying at Stony Brook who grew up from places all around the world – Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, China, Kuwait – and have learned from their experiences and personalities. I am excited to broaden that perspective by experiencing two non-western cultures first hand.

Q.)  What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

Lars: Aside from learning from different cultures, it will be interesting for me to be put in difficult situations and see how I react. It will help expand my creative thinking ability to find ways around obstacles in my path. Furthermore, it will be a self-discovery exercise. There is so much for me to learn these next three months, and I hope that it will make me a mentally stronger and wiser person.

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