Anaconda and tarantula bites and a monkey stealing his hat were just a few of the hardships Heath Slamons of Elkins had to endure during a seven-week stay in San Pedro, Ecuador.
But the experience was well worth it, as the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith student was able to pursue his passion for water conservation through a summer internship.
Slamons, an engineering major, worked with Amazonia Life, a volunteer-based organization that places college students in internships centered on environmental conservation. During his time in Ecuador, Slamons improved water quality in the country by creating a water filtration device that filters out sediments and larger bacteria from the Napo River.
To make the project even more challenging for Slamons, he built the device using only recycled goods from Ecuador, a challenge that he was well-prepared for through his education at UAFS.
“I have been exposed to many classes in the engineering program that force me to think outside the box and take a very creative approach to solving problems,” Slamons said. “I recently took an additive manufacturing course that allowed me to design multiple different types of project proposals and research high-quality materials and equipment. That class gave me the knowledge to be comfortable with what I have and to think creatively with the materials I have at my disposal.”
The filter Slamons created has increased the water quality of the area, and the filter will be further implemented across the San Pedro area. His efforts have also led to increased educational efforts among the residents of San Pedro.
“Ecuador has helped prepare me by creating in me the purposeful drive to see change in the areas where I go,” Slamons said. “This trip was a lot more practical than some of my earlier trips, because I was going to do what I love, and using my education in a meaningful way.”
Slamons became passionate about water conservation after a mission trip to Haiti in 2014, when Slamons became seriously ill after drinking contaminated water. Afterwards, he decided to pursue an internship to improve water quality in third-world countries.
The internship gave Slamons a sense of accomplishment and purpose, so much so that he now wants to pursue water conservation as a career. Following graduation, Slamons plans to pursue a master’s degree in environmental engineering or working for a nonprofit to help manufacture water filtration devices in other third-world countries.
“Ecuador has been an experience of a lifetime,” he said. “I'm sure that when I return to Fort Smith, I will realize just how much I truly have changed because of Ecuador.”