Engineering for the environment
Frank Darmiento ’67 earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Union before earning an M.S. in environmental engineering from Arizona State University. He served two years in the Peace Corps in Bolivia (1967-1969), where his primary assignment was providing technical assistance to the Rural Community Development Program. He prepared designs and cost estimates for projects such as small schoolhouses, road surveys and water and irrigation projects. Frank spent most of his career working as an environmental engineer and manager for the utility industry (water and power). This transitioned into working as an environmental consultant. For the last nine years of his career, he managed the transportation research program for the Arizona Department of Transportation. Now retired, Frank continues his involvement with music as a performer, teacher, composer and conductor. In addition to performing with numerous music ensembles of all types, he founded La Forza Chamber Orchestra, a mid-sized symphony orchestra. Frank is the author of a book about his Peace Corps experience, Bolivia 30: Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1960s.
What are/were the most challenging aspects of your career? What are/were the most rewarding?
As a Peace Corps volunteer, I worked as the sole technical support for a regional rural community development office. There were no senior engineers to help me, save a civil engineering group in the main office 130 miles away. And they only assisted on one of my projects in two years. I was helping rural farmers with projects in their communities and my decisions affected their lives directly. The problem-solving skills I learned at Union were critical in helping me cope with these challenges. After the Peace Corps, I faced many challenging tasks over my four-decade career. Some involved matters of environmental protections, or environmental compliance requirements involving large sums of money. However, none had the significance of an aqueduct project I designed in a tiny village in Bolivia to replace a wooden trough that washed out after each heavy rain. The local farmers relied on the associated irrigation canal to grow their crops. As an environmental engineer, one of the greatest challenges was developing cost-effective strategies for my employers to comply with environmental regulations. These strategies saved utility customers money while also protecting the environment. Developing these strategies required technical skill as well as excellent communication skills.
How has your engineering degree been useful in another field?
I use engineering skills learned at Union in variety of ways in my musical endeavors. These are mostly associated with organizing my schedule for teaching private music lessons. I also use problem-solving skills to organize the group when I conduct orchestras and prepare for concerts.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
I was fortunate that Union offered me the opportunity to pursue my musical interests while earning my engineering degree. In a parallel path, I studied music composition at Union and was co-leader of a jazz quintet with Dominic (Dick) Poccia ’67. He’s now professor emeritus of biology at Amherst College. Dick and I also created the Jazz Workshop at Union, a student-run jazz ensemble. I released a jazz CD on the Summit Records label in 2003. In that year, I also won a composition contest sponsored by the Dallas Wind Symphony for brass fanfares.
What’s the best piece of advice (professional or personal) you ever received?
As a Peace Corps volunteer, when I arrived at my work site in Bolivia I had a chance to talk to the volunteer I was replacing. In a town with no wastewater system, no electricity and only basic services, he told me that the busy volunteer is the happy volunteer. What he meant was that you could tolerate a lot of adversity or discomfort as long as you believed you were doing something worthwhile. And that carried through my entire professional career.