SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Ellie Dunkle’s journey and her love of the ocean took her from her home in South Kingstown to Guatemala, Spain and the Canary Islands.
Impressive, considering the new University of Rhode Island graduate spent her childhood in South Dakota.
“I never realized how powerful the ocean was until I moved to South Kingstown at age 16 and became a lifeguard at Narragansett Town Beach and saw people struggle in the waves,” Dunkle, who received her degree in ocean engineering Sunday at URI’s commencement ceremonies.
“Instead of being terrified of the ocean, it made me want to learn more about how it worked,” she said.
She now wants to use her knowledge and experiences to provide ocean-generated energy to isolated communities.
Dunkle got her feet wet early in her URI career, traveling to Guatemala as a freshman member of URI’s chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World to help design and build the first public water quality laboratory in the country’s highlands. She returned a year later as one of the project’s leaders to monitor the lab and help a local university establish a chapter of the global organization.
“I learned so much about laboratory equipment and how to do research,” Dunkle said. “And I really enjoyed using my Spanish. That was especially useful to me.”
Enrolled in URI’s International Engineering Program, which requires students to major in an engineering discipline and a foreign language and spend a year abroad, she put her Spanish speaking skills to the test when she traveled to Spain in her junior year.
She took classes for a semester at the University of Cantabria in northern Spain, then interned for an oceanographic engineering firm in the Canary Islands.
She’s grateful to have had the opportunity for a long stay.
“I really felt like I got the chance to acclimate to the environment and the culture there,” she said.
She found the pace of life moved a bit slower as well.
“There was nothing open on Sundays, we had siestas in the middle of the day. It really helped me to learn to be patient.”
During her internship, she analyzed data for reports, conducted water quality testing and translated grant proposals for the European Union.
“Whatever they needed done, I took care of it,” she said. “It was a very transformative time for me. I really developed as an international engineer.”
After a year abroad, she returned to the states and an internship with a Fall River company that puts solar panels on floating docks that serve as remote charging stations for ships and other marine vehicles.
Her time at URI wasn’t all academics and internships. In response to the 2016 election, she started an organization on campus called Women in STEM. It’s a support group for women seeking careers in the sciences. She also participated in community service projects as a Feinstein Experience volunteer.
Dunkle isn’t finished with her education. She’s been accepted as a graduate student at Oregon State University, where she’ll study coastal and ocean engineering and do research on ocean-related renewable energy projects. She plans to earn an MBA, too.
“I really want to find a way to marry all of my passions and start my own company to create technologies using ocean renewable energy to help connect disadvantaged people to society,” she said. “I want to look at remote islands or isolated communities and make sure they can be self-sustaining with the help of ocean renewable energy.”