At age 19, Aldonna Purba was already an employee at one of the largest water suppliers in the capital of Indonesia. As a microbiology laboratory analyst at Jakarta Water Supply Concessionaire, Aldonna gained an interest for water treatment and wanted to learn more about the field. When she learned about the Community College Initiative (CCI) Program, she asked to leave work for the 11 month program period to hone her skills within her field and, upon being accepted, left for her year abroad.
When Aldonna arrived in Chicago for the CCI’s 2013-2014 program year, she began her studies at College of DuPage. Initially her field of study assignment, Applied Engineering, confused her—she did not see its connection to water treatment. However, she did not let that discourage her. “Instead of being disappointed, I took the initiative to share my passion with the professors at my college.” As it turns out, sharing her passion ended up opening unique opportunities.
First, after hearing about Aldonna’s interests, one of Aldonna’s professors at College of DuPage took her to the Aurora Water Treatment Plant, a huge plant “with technology we rarely have in Indonesia.” This excursion inspired Aldonna to seek out other trips to water plants through her other classes, and to look outside the classroom for inspiration as well.
During her CCI exchange year, Aldonna also took the initiative to pursue workshops and professional development opportunities within her U.S. host community. This ambition led her to participate in a workshop event hosted by the Water Environment Federation (WEF) in Chicago. At the event she met experts in field of water treatment, participated in a volunteering effort with the WEF to build a rain garden a local elementary school, and snagged an internship in a wastewater laboratory, the Wheaton Sanitary District, to assist with lab analysis.
Aldonna also used the volunteering component of the CCI Program as an opportunity to gain more hands-on experience about her field. She became a volunteer at Scarce, an environmental consultant organization that provides educational programs for DuPage County. At Scarce, Aldonna worked to inspire DuPage county locals to care more about the earth through eco-friendly projects.
Through academics, outside resources, and volunteering, Aldonna used her exchange year in the CCI Program as an opportunity to advance her skills and try out new paths in her field. When she returned to Indonesia, she continued to capitalize on the resources available to her.
Currently, in addition to taking on new responsibilities at her job in Indonesia, Aldonna is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering and has been involved in conferences and communities dedicated to environmental outreach. By participating in conferences held by the United Nations University and Fulbright Foundation, she has gained connections with researchers and NGOs in the environmental sector.
Beyond conferences, she has reached out to community platforms such as the Global Young Reformers Network and the World Youth Parliament for Water to continue to build her network. On a local scale, she’s connected with the Ciliwung River Community which Aldonna describes as “active in conserving our environment and cleaning our river.” Ultimately, Aldonna hopes to inspire young people in her community to care for their environment, and hopes that her story will inspire them to “go for it” like she did.
“Finding a passion is a journey,” Aldonna says, and even though she did not immediately see the connection between her field of study in the U.S. and her interests, her experiences during her exchange year helped her realize her passion. “[The CCI Program] has changed my perspective of the global world… I encourage students to take initiative during such an invaluable experience.”