Passionate Engineering

February 19, 2015

sams & internA family tradition and an interest in engineering led Taylor Sams, a senior in the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering, to Clemson University 5 years ago.  Taylor, a native of Irmo South Carolina, comes from a family of engineers of all backgrounds and aspired to pursue a degree in engineering himself.  He also has family ties to Clemson – his grandfather, James G. Sams Jr. was a cadet in the 1950s, and another relative, James H. Sams, was a former Dean of Engineering in the 19030’s. In May, Taylor will graduate with a degree in Civil Engineering, and he will also take with him a wealth of team-building, leadership, and practical experiences as a result of his involvement with Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries (CEDC).

Taylor’s association with CEDC came about by chance.  Not long after transferring into civil engineering, he noticed a CEDC sticker on a fellow student’s laptop, and struck up a conversation, which led to an invitation to attend a meeting.  Over the course of the next few years, Taylor’s involvement and responsibilities with CEDC have increased from class attendance to leadership roles.

One year ago, Taylor left for a seven-month internship in Cange, Haiti as the 9th engineering intern. Funding for CEDC projects comes from various sources, and while waiting for capital and materials to arrive, Taylor worked with the local water maintenance team and concentrated on learning the French-based Creole language. In the evenings, Taylor spent countless hours developing the relationships that would prove to be the most valuable resource during his intern experience.

Over the course of his internship, Taylor made site visits, worked on water filtration systems, latrines, bio-digesters to recycle human waste and preliminary designs for ideas conceived in Clemson. All of these projects are needed in the surrounding villages of Cange, and with Taylor’s passion, he wanted to do them all. The villagers reminded him “piti a piti zwozo fe niche”- little by little the bird builds its nest.

During Spring Break, 12 CEDC students arrived for a week to help with various projects and data collection. As an intern, Taylor led them on trips to surrounding villages for site assessments. One village in particular, Bel Aire, is 7 miles from Cange, and the mode of transportation – walking. Once, while on the return trip to Cange from Bel Aire, the team ran out of drinking water. The nearest village was across a lake – a 2 hour walk away – and the team was showing signs of dehydration. Taylor was able to contact Sejour, a villager whom he had worked with on a local fish farm project, to ask if he would transport the group back to Cange via boat, or “shaloop” in Creole. While they waited his arrival, Sejour contacted some of the locals and asked them to bring coconuts to the group for rehydration. Instances like this prove that the project engineers in Cange, past and present, have become part of the community. “The amount of support I received from the community was incredible. Before leaving, I thought I was going to be the one providing a service for those in need, but it ended up being a ‘two-way’ street. The comradery was simply beautiful.”

This year, Taylor serves as Program Director of CEDC. The organization functions as a business with a hierarchical organization structure, allowing students to work in administrative-oriented teams. With guidance from Dr. Jennifer Ogle and industry advisers David Vaughn and Jeff Pumblee (creator of CEDC), Taylor oversees the daily operations of CEDC project and functional groups. CEDC is a training tool to enhance leadership skills while giving real world experience to understand problems ranging from lack of funding  to finding a practical solutions, and implementing them in a third-world country with very little resources.  As Taylor says, “CEDC gives you exposure to industry with tangible applications – things you just can’t learn in a classroom”. Taylor has also gained confidence in giving presentations and calling potential donors, which will be a great asset when he enters the workforce.

Upon graduation, Taylor plans to return to Haiti to visit friends he made while interning. He is also plans to hike the first half of the Appalachian Trail before looking for his dream job to work with a design/ build engineering firm that will allow him to work in an office environment and in the field.