Several years back, Andrew Boules might have told you he wanted to be a pilot or a doctor. Never once did he imagine he would travel all the way from Egypt to study renewable energy in Wilsonville.
"Egypt has a lot of potential for renewables and it's pretty much underutilized," Boules said. "I think it's going to boom very quickly in the near future. I think it's a field with a lot of potential for growth and I want to be part of that."
Boules, 29, came to the United States just over a year ago as a Fulbright Scholar — an exchange program centered on graduate studies, research and teaching opportunities in more than 140 countries. Since then, he has been studying at the Oregon Institute of Technology to receive his masters of science and renewable energy engineering.
"I wanted to study outside of Egypt and I was interested in renewable energy and this is what I was basically looking for and lucky for me, Oregon Tech was one of the top results on Google when I Googled renewable energy master programs in the U.S.," Boules said. "I read about the program (and) it sounded like a really interesting program."
As an undergraduate, Boules studied mechanical engineering at American University in Cairo.
"Everybody in Egypt wants to be a doctor, wants to go into medicine. I was accepted by medicine school but I wanted to do engineering and the way high school works in Egypt is once you take biology you're stuck with medicine, you cannot go for engineering," Boules said. "But American University in Cairo is one of very few schools in Egypt that will allow you the flexibility to switch if you want. Plus, American University in Cairo is considered by many, the most prestigious school in Egypt."
During his five-year undergraduate program, he was able to participate in a semester abroad in New York where he saw snow for the first time.
"It was pretty awesome. I only stayed for four months so I didn't stay long enough to get tired (of it)," said Boules, adding that he was also friends with several American exchange students — and even roomed with some of them — at his university in Cairo. He also visited family in California in 2012, which all helped prepare him for life during his 21-month masters program at OIT.
But before he decided to launch into his graduate studies, Boules worked for Baker Hughes — a multinational oil and gas company in Egypt — for three years.
"It was pretty useful for me on the professional side and on the personal side it was pretty tough. I would go in the middle of the sea or the middle of the desert and stay there for a few weeks," said Boules, adding that he was a field engineer so he was on-call for operations to extract oil and gas from the area.
Now, Boules is working on his thesis that experiments with manufacturing solar modules — panels that absorb the sun's rays to generate electricity or heat.
"I will basically be experimenting with manufacturing solar modules under different parameters, seeing how this affects their performance," Boules said. "When you encapsulate or laminate a solar module you need temperature and pressure for a certain duration of time. I'll be playing with different temperatures (for) different durations. Then I'll see how this affects the output of the solar module, especially after exposing it to an accelerated aging test, which is basically a simulation of how the module would perform in real-life conditions."
While the program at OIT is quite challenging and time-consuming, Boules thinks it's worth it and has still found time to explore the area. He's been to the coast for the Fourth of July, gone on hikes in the Columbia River Gorge and experienced the solar eclipse in August — he considers himself a dedicated outdoorsman. And that's something he has come to appreciate about Oregon: the nature. But not necessarily the weather.
"I come from a sunny place. I was looking at the weather forecast in my city back in Egypt and 10 days from now its 70 degree weather and sunny," Boules said. "I was about to cry, but on the flipside, Oregon's nature is amazing."
Another aspect he appreciates is Oregon's "liberalness." He said he's experienced no discrimination in the states thus far.
"I think it's just human nature that some people don't like to deal with people who are different from them so I wouldn't say this is something unique to some parts of the U.S.," Boules said. "I think it's that way anywhere you will go and it all comes down to how educated or uneducat-
ed the people you are dealing with are."
He's also learned that Wilsonville, especially Portland, is quite the opposite of Egypt, which is very conservative.
"The thing that caught my attention was this bumper sticker, it says 'Keeping Portland Weird,'" Boules said. "I (also) want to see the naked bike ride but I didn't get a chance. If you do this in Egypt you would be like stoned, I don't know."
But as far as Boules' education goes, he hopes to land an internship when he graduates in June. Otherwise, he plans on returning home to find work in renewable energy.