By Bryan Hay 

As a senior finishes her Lafayette experience and a recent grad embarks on the first leg of his career journey, the Engineering Division’s first two dual degree major Bergh Family Fellows in Engineering and International Studies are each benefiting from the rich study abroad experience afforded to them by the program.

Established in 2022 by Chip Bergh ’79 H’22, president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., and his wife, Juliet, the Bergh Family Fellows program supports internships, global engagement, and research experiences for 200 students per year, including two dual majors from the Engineering Division over the summer.

Ariel Haber-Fawcett ’24 and Sam Arnold ’23 traveled to Guatemala and Peru, respectively, last summer, enhancing their dual degree experience and providing each of them with a valuable cultural immersion opportunity.

Michael Senra, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering who chairs the Engineering Division’s dual degree program in Engineering and International Studies, says the Bergh program offers a chance for students in one of the Engineering Division’s established bachelor of science degree programs to gain language skills and a multicultural viewpoint, apply their engineering skills during an immersive experience studying and working abroad, and see the world through a different lens.

“It’s a quintessential Lafayette program where students get both engineering and the liberal arts,” Senra says. “With the generous donation from Chip and Juliet Bergh, it provided a very unique opportunity, because this program satisfies two of the three arms of what the Berghs wanted—studying abroad and internship experiences.”

As the first two first two dual degree major Bergh Family Fellows in engineering, Haber-Fawcett and Arnold pioneered the possibilities of the program and paved the way for future students, including the next pair for this summer, Fatma Elbanna ’26 (chemical engineering) and Liam Sawian ’26 (integrative engineering, with a bioengineering focus), to build on the success and benefits of the program, Senra notes.

Here’s what Haber-Fawcett and Arnold had to say about their experiences.

Ariel Haber-Fawcett 

Mechanical engineering and international studies, minor in Spanish, with a goal to work in renewable energy/building energy fields

Ariel Haber-Fawcett ’24 and Sam Arnold '23, Lafayette's first Bergh Family Fellows in Engineering and International Studies, during their summer experiences in 2023.  ArielHaber-Fawcett ’24 working at Enérgica Solar in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

Ariel Haber-Fawcett ’24 working at Enérgica Solar in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

Describe your travels last summer, and why and how you chose that destination.

I traveled to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. It is also known as Xela. It’s the second largest city in Guatemala after Guatemala City. I spent eight weeks there in June and July.

During the summer between my junior and senior year, I designed my own study abroad experience to fill the engineering and international studies dual degree requirement. I was awarded a $5,000 stipend from the Bergh Family Fellows program, and it was important to me to not spend this on an American-run study abroad experience where I would be surrounded by other English speakers.

In order to build an authentic immersion experience where I could also pursue my engineering passions, I searched for a Spanish-speaking city in Latin America that had solar energy companies and host-stay opportunities. After sending many cold emails and WhatsApp messages, I was able to find a company called Enérgica Solar in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, that was willing to offer me an unpaid internship installing solar water heaters with their installation techs for eight weeks over the summer. I also found a small, Maya-family-owned Spanish language school within walking distance. I lived with the family and took Spanish classes from them.

Why was this opportunity valuable to you and how did it help make your Lafayette experience unique?

I feel really grateful that I was able to have this experience and really proud that I was able to find both Centro Maya Xela and Enérgica Solar. They combined for the perfect experience that allowed me to push myself way out of my comfort zone for a deep language and cultural immersion experience. Outside of just the language acquisition aspect, I just generally became a better conversationalist since I was forced to talk to new people and get to know them as I was traveling solo. Leaning into this and asking lots and lots of questions allowed me to truly get the most out of living with a host family and working with the solar technicians, in terms of learning about cultural similarities and differences. I also learned to just say yes to everything, even if it was something I wouldn’t usually choose to do, because I always ended up getting something out of it and being glad that I went. It was also truly incredible to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be Indigenous and to learn about the history, culture, and ways of life of the Maya people.

Even though it was really hard to be away from my wife, friends, and family for eight weeks, this was something that I would not have gotten the most out of if I were not doing it alone, and I’m really glad I did it. It’s something that’s going to stick with me for the rest of my life, and I think it has helped me evolve into a more confident and independent person.

Why is the Bergh Family Fellows program important to the engineering program and Lafayette in general?

It would have been extremely challenging, if not impossible, for me to find a paid internship in a Spanish-speaking country as no company is going to pay someone who is not fluent in Spanish, not to mention the visa implications that getting paid would have added. “I was able to use the Bergh funding to pay for my home stay, which included room, board, Spanish lessons, and most of the costs of my airfare. The Bergh Family Fellows program made it possible for me to live and work in Guatemala for eight weeks with only small personal expenses.”

Sam Arnold

Chemical engineering and international studies; Process engineer for Boston Beer Co.

Sam Arnold '23 arrives at a glacial lake more than 15,000 feet above sea level after a nine 9-mile hike near Huarez, Peru. 

Sam Arnold ’23 arrives at a glacial lake more than 15,000 feet above sea level after a 9-mile hike near Huarez, Peru.

Describe your travels last summer, and why and how you chose that destination.

I was based out of Lima, Peru, and used the Bergh Family Fellows program as a chance to fulfill my immersion credit for my dual degree. For the immersion experience, I needed to go to a Spanish-speaking country. I had decided a while ago that if I was going to go abroad, I wanted to be in a non-European country. I didn’t want a Western-dominated experience and wanted a Spanish-speaking destination south of Mexico or Guatemala. I started trying to put out some feelers, and one of my friends from college was from Lima. His dad was working for a pharmaceutical company down there that focused in ophthalmology care, so that fit with my chemical engineering background.

Why was this opportunity valuable to you and how did it help make your Lafayette experience unique?

I came to Lafayette not really knowing what I wanted to do besides general engineering. My experience in Peru helped me realize that I don’t want to go into pharmaceuticals. There was a lot of time reading through regulatory documents and wearing full body suits, masks and eye protection. The need for that was understandable, just pretty intense. But last summer

reinforced for me that I wanted a job that would allow me to travel. It gave me more confidence in my ability to figure things out than probably at any other point in my life. That’s what Lafayette is all about, gaining self-reliance and critical thinking skills.

Why is the Bergh Family Fellows program important to the engineering program and Lafayette in general?

It’s supporting a different way to have a study abroad experience. It gave me a chance to push myself by seeing a completely different side of the world. It relieves any worry about how to pay for such a rewarding experience. I didn’t have to pinch pennies to get to Peru. My only concerns were learning how to get around, learning a new language, pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, and applying my engineering skills through an international perspective. I’ll always be grateful for the Bergh program.

Categorized in: Academic News, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Engineering, Engineering/International Studies Dual Degree, Featured News, Integrative engineering, Mechanical Engineering, News and Features, Students
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