Pictured: David on-site in NSW in his role as an undergraduate process engineer with Metso Outotec in 2022.
Growing up in Cambodia, David Sea never imagined he would one day be teaching children in rural Australia how to build floating houses like those on the Tonle Sap.
Now, in his final year completing a Bachelor of Engineering degree at The University of Queensland (UQ), David draws on his love of learning and science to teach school students about the wonders of engineering in his role as the UQ Chapter’s Youth Outreach Regioneering Coordinator. When he’s not studying for exams or volunteering his time with EWB Australia, David works as an undergraduate Process Engineer at Metso Outotec, an international manufacturing company servicing the minerals processing and metals refining industry.
However, his journey was not without challenges.
Moving to Australia at 12 years old
As a child, David saw first-hand the devastating and enduring impact of poverty. David’s parents were children during the horrific Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and were not afforded the same prosperous and educational opportunities as David and his two siblings.
David’s father worked hard to complete a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering and a Master of Public Administration, all whilst supporting his family. David’s mother lost her father during the Khmer Rouge regime due to limited access to sufficient healthcare. She lived with her mother in a small village under difficult economic circumstances without her father supporting the family, and as such, completing her education was not an option.
Although David’s mother was unable to complete high school, she was a powerful influence on David and his siblings and inspired in them a dedication to their studies. David credits his parents for his love of learning; a passion that he brings to the classroom in his role delivering Youth Outreach workshops.
“I truly believe in the value of education and I will continue to promote the power of education through any work that I do.”
When David was 12 years old, he waved goodbye to his family and stepped onto a plane to Australia to pursue an education at a high school in Brisbane. Although he faced many challenges along the way – culture shock, language barriers and difficulties acclimatising to high school – David looks back on this time with pride.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience.”
Now in his fourth year of study at The University of Queensland, David is close to finishing his degree in Chemical Engineering. When he was younger, David was convinced that he was going to become a businessman. He envisioned himself completing a business degree and then returning home to Cambodia to work in the bustling hospitality and tourism industry.
Ultimately though, this didn’t feel like the right fit. Instead, David wanted to use his creative thinking and love of chemistry to help solve problems for those who didn’t have the same opportunities he had growing up.
This is what initially drew him to EWB in 2019.
When David was in his first year of university, he discovered EWB’s Humanitarian Design Summit program. The program offers students the opportunity to travel overseas to learn about human-centred design and sustainable development in a real-world setting. David dreamed about returning home to his family and helping improve the lives of communities in Cambodia, one of the locations for the program.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the Humanitarian Design Summit was put on hiatus and David was unable to take part in the program. Despite this, David was inspired by EWB’s mission and work in Cambodia, so he decided to join his local Chapter as the Regioneering Coordinator.
“One of my goals was to give back to EWB for all that they have done for my home country and utilising my skills, I wanted to influence the next generation of engineers,” explained David.
As Regioneering Coordinator, David is responsible for planning trips throughout the year to schools in remote and regional Australia. During these Regioneering trips, Chapter members deliver innovative, practical and inspiring engineering-based workshops to children in rural areas.
Regioneering in far-north Queensland
David’s latest Regioneering trip saw the UQ Chapter visit five schools in regional far-north Queensland over a five day road trip. Each day, the Regioneering team visited a different community to present workshops on clean water, appropriate housing and access to better health. This experience opened David’s eyes to the many local challenges experienced by Australia’s remote communities.
One of the communities visited by the UQ Chapter was Ravenshoe, a small town in far-north Queensland with a population of less than 2000. During the height of the pandemic, people living in Ravenshoe waited up to 3-4 weeks for a doctor’s appointment. As a result, many school children who were waiting on medical appointments had to stay home and miss out on class.
A highlight for David on this trip was seeing how much fun the students of Ravenshoe had learning about engineering. One teacher mentioned to David how wonderful it was to see the students connecting and bonding as teams in the hands-on activity after months of limited student interactions due to the pandemic.
David’s advice for the next generation
Reflecting on his journey, David’s advice for the next generation of changemakers is to not be afraid of failure.
“Growing up, I remember I always pressured myself and I was scared to do anything slightly outside of my comfort zone… I thought failure was a bad thing.”
Now David’s advice is, “Go try as many new things as you can. Fail and try again. Because at a young age, that is how you learn.”
Whether it be in his job as a Process Engineer, or through his time spent volunteering with EWB, David hopes to promote the value of education, diversity and inclusivity in all that he does. He hopes to help young people realise their untapped potential and become changemakers in their own community, whether that be in STEM or otherwise!
About the ‘Futur-neers’ program: This series is funded by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources through the ‘Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship’ grant program. The program focuses on deeper support and amplification of EWB’s Youth Outreach volunteer network, with a particular focus on empowering women in engineering.