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Rising Stars: Green Engineer Share His Know-How

By Lucas Laursen

Dutch engineer Maarten Graveland is known by his coworkers as the man who can fix anything. He more modestly admits that he likes to make things foolproof and sustainable. His interest in sustainability recently led him to Guatemala, where he applied his high-tech training to low-tech environmental engineering problems

Name: Maarten Graveland
School: Randmeer College, The Netherlands
Major: Mechanical + Electrical Engineering
Years Out of College: 10+
Title: Environmental Engineer

First Steps

Maarten Graveland studied engineering and physics but even while he was an undergraduate he knew he liked to work on practical mechanical problems. After graduating, he jumped into a construction job, the first of many, many hands-on jobs in mechanical engineering, quality control, and most recently, environmental engineering. Each job has brought Graveland a little closer to what he says is his ideal - applying his engineering and mechanical skills to problems of sustainability.

From Then to Now

One early job was building automated ventilations systems for agricultural storehouses. "What I liked about that job was that it was very practical and used the electrical side of my education." Later, Graveland worked as a technical drafter for Grontmij, a major Dutch engineering firm, working with water and waste. "We were designing sewer treatment plants and water purification plants and garbage recycling plants." The work Grontmij was doing inspired him to pursue jobs with environmentally related projects.

His instinct for the hands-on side of engineering has proved a versatile asset, but he has also developed a new skill -- teaching, which he says he really enjoys. His first experience sharing his engineering skills was at a factory that made protective covers for airbags in cars: "I was in the quality-control lab. The business was starting up a new product and they had a lot of problems keeping up the quality level. So I helped the guys on the working floor make the quality level better."

His next job, running a production line filling bottles with cleaning liquid "had nothing to do with environmental sustainability so it wasn't that hard to give up" when his girlfriend graduated and they made plans to live abroad for a while.

Together, they spent a nearly a year in Guatemala, returning to the Netherlands in summer of 2007. While there, he volunteered with an organization that shares strategies with local companies for use in sustainable development. He says he hopes his next job is like the volunteer job in Guatemala: "hands on, research and development, teaching, and learning."

Challenges Faced

Even though Graveland enjoys sharing his engineering know-how with others, he finds it can be a frustrating process. Not everyone, he says, will admit when they don't understand something. "So I'd think everything was clear, and the next product would be screwed up again, because nothing was learned during the last lesson."

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