Making a difference in mechanical engineering

Aryaman Chaturani (he/him), a third-year mechanical engineering student, discusses his international co-op in Uttarakhand, India, what he learned from his time abroad and the importance of making positive contributions to society through engineering. 

Aryaman's co-op journey

First work term: Back in 2019, Aryaman started his co-op journey at Glen Dimplex Americas as a product development engineer. He was tasked with designing, testing and small-scale manufacturing. 

Second work term: At Jamesway, Aryaman worked as a mechanical engineer, redesigning and testing egg trays.  

Third work term: In manufacturing design at Engineering Lifting Systems, Aryaman was responsible for upgrading processes to increase efficiency and redesigning parts for welders.   

Fourth work term: For his fourth co-op term, Aryaman accepted a position at Avani Kuamon, a non-profit in India that aims to improve the livelihood of those in rural communities. One of their many initiatives involves generating and distributing electricity to local communities. Electricity is generated sustainably by harvesting pine needles that have fallen during shedding months. Although Aryaman had multiple responsibilities at Avani, he was mainly responsible for developing on-site power plant facilities. 

Fifth work term: In Toronto, Aryaman did mechanical design work for Cosm Medical, a biomechanical company that creates personalized pessaries for women who experience prolapse.  

Q&A with Aryaman

What made you want to embark on an international co-op term? 

“When I saw the job posting on WaterlooWorks, I was intrigued because it was in a completely different part of the world. The work itself seemed very impactful and since Avani is a small company I knew that I would see the tangible impacts of my work from start to finish. Plus, I speak Hindi, so I thought that it would be a good opportunity to brush up on my language skills as well.”

Aryaman holding a baby goat.What do you think you've gained from your experience abroad? 

“In terms of technical skills, this co-op was in a new field. Dealing with energy, the work involved physics calculations which I hadn’t done before. Avani had a few different power plants, but I spent most of my time working on their smaller 15-kilowatt power plant. I learned how each mechanism functioned. So, on the technical side it was very interesting work.” 

“Since most employees at Avani live on-site, the majority of the food that we ate was grown ourselves. Beyond engineering work, the job included community involvement; this ranged from farmwork to helping with cooking and helping organize local events. The impact of seeing the food I helped grow on my plate was grounding and definitely enriched the experience of seeing tangible impact from my work.”

“Another responsibility that I took up was teaching. I was told that Avani has an elementary school which offers alternative education to the standard models of learning. There are roughly 16-25 children enrolled in the school, from kindergarten to grade five. I helped at the school for around three hours a week, sometimes teaching the kids algebra or culinary arts. I'd buy the ingredients and have the kids make things like cake, pies, or pudding. This experience opened my eyes to teaching as a very fulfilling career.”

“Avani’s larger mission is to fight inequality by providing fair employment and safe housing to women regardless of the root of their troubles. The locality of Avani is very remote and partially due to that, they have lingering effects of the caste system. Hearing and seeing cases of people being exiled from their villages due to wanting “inter-cast” marriages or challenging societal norms like this was as shocking as it was difficult. Avani definitely brought light to these issues and it was nice to see them working to address these social issues.” 

Aryaman's photo of a look, taken in Uttarakhand, India.Can you tell me about the photo that won you second place in the “Where in the World?!” photo contest? 

“I chose to submit a picture of a loom. The photo shows the product of silk and wool woven into a sheet which will eventually become a scarf. The art of clothes-making embraced at Avani represents the value put into historical and cultural preservation; a major part of the employment they provide revolves around the creation of garments from scratch. This brings clothes into local communities all over India.”

“The day I took the picture, I was taking videos to be used for promotional content for their website. I saw my friends working on the loom and the way the light hit the scarf transfixed me. Its meaning is simple, the loom is a symbol of what keeps the company and communities functioning, as it also did in the context of India’s cultural revolution.”

Skyline in Uttarakhand, India.Do you have any standout experiences from working abroad at Avani? 

“The environmental beauty was captivating. Most of my weekends looked like going on hikes through high passes and into valleys to reach secluded waterfalls. Seeing the rich culture of the region and exploring that through the environment was a personal milestone while in India. For example, there was a specific reverence for the Goddess Kali in the mountainous culture; I went on a trek to get to the base of a temple of the goddess embedded into a cave system that created a tunnel through a rocky hill.” 

“On another note, the community at Avani was very tight knit. After the kids would get off from school, the interns would look after them. There was one kid that I saw quite often and he was very eager to ride the bike his mom had bought him. With permission from his mom, I spent a couple of afternoons teaching him how to ride a bike. It was great to see that process.”

Aryaman and a friend sitting by the river.What projects are you most proud of? 

“For my first co-op at Glen Dimplex Americas, I created a baseboard design and prototype. I learned a lot from seeing the entire manufacturing and R&D process. I also improved my time management skills because I had to meet deadlines without much supervision. Figuring out how to break up my time and meet my goals was something I was proud of.” 

“Another project I’m proud of is the egg tray design that I made for Jamesway. At that point, I wasn't fluent in computer-aided design (CAD) software and having to continuously iterate based the needs of the client was a great learning experience."

Sun setting over the mountains. Do you have any advice for students? 

“Learn time management early. For example, reading your lessons before lectures eases the amount of energy you must put into revising. Another piece of advice is to follow your intuition, especially when it comes to new experiences at work. Try and absorb as much as you can and grow from each experience.” 

Rocky creek surrouded by tall trees. Where do you see yourself in the future?  

“Every co-op that I’ve had has been in a slightly different field. With each new co-op, I want to pursue what I’m learning as a career so it's hard to pinpoint a specific field that I want to go into. Right now, biomechanics is something I’m interested in. I like it because its heavily connected to psychology and the feedback loop between mental and physical health.”

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