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Matt Arner '98 Finds the Humanity in Technology

By Matthew Arner '98

When I graduated from WPI with a degree in mechanical engineering, I wanted to find a job that could be described as humanitarian. I had made that decision earlier, during my Interactive Qualifying Project, or IQP, in Holland. What I learned there about the power of technology to effect social good changed my perspective on the world and on my career goals.

When I looked for that ideal job, however, I didn't see any "humanitarian" careers advertised. So, I took a position at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), and, to keep my humanitarian spirit alive, did volunteer conservation work in New Mexico and Alaska.

Continuing my pursuit of a more fulfilling career, I remembered a word my Holland classmates used during a presentation: sustainability. I tried it in my Internet search. The inquiry brought up an extraordinary range of results, from positions with powerhouses like the United Nations and the World Bank to jobs with grassroots organizations like the Friends of the Trees. I wondered how sustainability could apply to such diverse groups until I realized the connection among them was the word "development." That's how I was introduced to the phrase "sustainable development."

Sustainable development meant poverty alleviation, human rights protection, nature conservation, disaster relief, humanitarian aid, technology. The words jumped out at me: sustainable, humanitarian, and technology. Combine these words with an engineering degree and you arrive at appropriate technology, a subsection of the wide-ranging development field. More than 50 years ago, Einstein said, "It has become increasingly clear that our technology has exceeded our humanity." Just like the IQP, appropriate technology aims to improve quality of life while carefully considering the effects on other aspects of society.

In 2001, I consulted with Wisdom Light Group, a private business in Kathmandu, Nepal, helping to deliver solar photovoltaic energy to the remote rural population. Last May I received a master's degree in sustainable international development from Brandeis University.

I'm not sure where my career will go next, but I'm excited by the possibilities of new adventures. The most important thing I learned at WPI was the science of self-discovery. WPI doesn't just produce well-rounded engineers; it produces well-rounded people, who want to use their degree to explore entirely new fields. For me and many of my WPI friends, this is the secret excitement of a WPI engineering degree.

Matthew Arner is currently working as an independent renewable energy and energy efficiency contractor in the Boston area.
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Last modified: Sep 02, 2004, 11:24 EDT
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