Student Profile: Elijah Wilson

Before attending the OSU College of Forestry (CoF),Elijah Wilson had never travelled abroad, did not speak Spanish and never thought that he could afford to study abroad. Originally from Cottage Grove, OR, Elijah knew that he wanted to go into a forestry and engineering related field in college. He began his first term at OSU in the Forest & Civil Engineering five-year dual degree program. It did not take long for him to realize that civil engineering was not for him, but he liked the small class sizes and personable vibe within the College of Forestry, so he decided to look exclusively at CoF majors.

"One of the things that I really like about the College of Forestry is the first name basis you have with the professors. Any professor would be happy to answer your questions and if they don't know the answer, they will get you in touch with someone who does," he said.

After meeting with David Smith, Renewable Materials academic advisor, Elijah knew that he had found the right fit. By the end of his freshman year, Elijah was majoring in Renewable Materials with the Science & Engineering option and a Bioenergy minor. He also joined the OSU student chapter of the national Forest Products Society (FPS), which encourages awareness about forest products. It was his involvement in FPS that sparked Elijah's interest in studying abroad.

"I had never even considered it because I could never afford it," replied Elijah of studying abroad.

A fellow FPS member helped Elijah to realize that studying abroad does not have to be expensive.

The cost varies greatly depending on where you choose to go. Originally, Elijah planned to go to Australia or New Zealand, never even considering other countries because of the language requirements. Then he came across the IE₃ Global Internships program.

"It was the perfect program," he gushed. "Exactly what I wanted to do!"

Elijah applied for a three-term internship in Nicaragua with a non-governmental organization (NGO) called AsoFenix during the 2012-13 academic year. AsoFenix is dedicated to improving life in rural communities through renewable energy sources such as micro wind turbines, wood stoves and hydroelectric dams.

"The way I thought about the company was, using renewable energy as a way to fight poverty," Elijah said.

Elijah learned that he was accepted into the program in June of 2012, just three months before he would be leaving the country. He was completely unprepared and had no idea what was in store for him.

"The first three days were the hardest for me because I had to deal with the heat of Nicaragua which was something I had never experienced before, see all the poverty that is there, travel many hours and find my way in a place where I did not speak the language, and just become familiarized with living in a new country," he recounted. "Once I had gotten settled in and understood how things worked, it was not so bad."

Elijah spent the first month with a host family in Leon, Nicaragua, and attended Dariana Spanish School. The rest of his trip was spent mostly in Managua, where the AsoFenix office is located, and in the rural communities that he worked with. Elijah's primary task was to improve wood cook stoves.

"The main thing that people use wood for worldwide is as fuel for cooking," he explained. "Improved cook stoves are more efficient and use less wood."

Elijah helped to develop a program to integrate wood stoves into rural communities. He worked directly with the communities to teach them how to use the stoves.

"I helped the families integrate this equipment into their daily lives. I revived and redesigned the cook stove program to make it more usable," Elijah described. "It was interesting to be able to apply what you're learning to real life and see how ideas like that can be used."

Because he went to a developing country, Elijah saw poverty first-hand. But one of his favorite parts of the trip was the positive attitude of the people that he met.

"Being able to meet these people in rural communities who, by our standards are way way below the poverty line, but were happy … it helps you appreciate so much more what you have here in the U.S." revealed Elijah.

After returning from Nicaragua in July 2013, Elijah had caught the travelling bug. That summer, he went on the Insights from Scandinavia trip, a fifteen-day study tour through Finland, Denmark, and Sweden, hosted by OSU College of Forestry faculty. He also landed an internship with Weyerhaeuser, one of the world's largest private owners of timberlands.

Elijah is now in his fourth year at OSU and is using his experience with improved cook stoves as part of his thesis for his bioenergy minor. He is a member of the International Forestry Students Association (IFSA), the Vice President of FPS, and a member of the Leadership Academy through the College of Agricultural Sciences. Studying abroad in Nicaragua inspired Elijah to minor in Spanish, and he is considering adding an international degree as well. Someday he hopes to pursue a master's degree and would eventually like to obtain a doctorate. For a career, Elijah would like to explore the business side of wood products. He wants to continue travelling abroad, and is contemplating the idea of earning his master's degree overseas.

"I would love to go into higher management in a wood products company like Weyerhaeuser," Elijah declared. "Preferably an international company so that I could go abroad and help to integrate cook stoves all over the world."