Next in the GCSP spotlight series is Nicholas May-Varas. 

Nicholas is a sophomore studying mechanical engineering with a minor in humanitarian engineering. He is a research assistant at the Pacific Marine Energy Center (PMEC), volunteers at Seeds for the Sol in Corvallis, and is a member of the College of Engineering Leadership Academy. 

His Grand Challenge is “Make Solar Energy Economical”. The goal of this challenge is to make solar energy more affordable, so the amount of solar energy used around the world increases substantially. This challenge relates to the research and entrepreneurship components of the GCSP because research must be conducted to develop more affordable solar energy platforms and knowledge of business is essential to promote the usage of current technologies. His involvement in the GCSP has allowed him to lead Oregon State’s team at the National Academy of Engineering’s Global Grand Challenges Summit Student Competition and volunteer at Seeds for the Sol. 

To fulfill his entrepreneurship component, Nicholas led a team of six engineers from Oregon State to compete at the Global Grand Challenges Summit Student Competition in Irvine, California. The team had to develop a theoretical product that could help sustain a world population of 10 billion people. They developed a device that would convert plastic waste into useable forms of energy. Once the product was developed, Nicholas and his team created a business plan and product pitch to share at the regional competition. The GCSP helped fund Nicholas’ trip to California. 

Nicholas enjoyed this activity because it gave him experience in a new field and it helped him improve his interpersonal skills. It also allowed him to collaborate with several types of engineers. 

“I think it affected my engineering experience by allowing me to apply not only skills I learned in class but also skills of collaboration and communication,” he said. “I worked with bioengineering, chemical engineering, computer science, and mechanical engineering students to develop a product and idea to solve a broad problem the entire world is facing. It was a really good opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and the classroom and apply those skills to a specific goal.” 

This experience also allowed him to expand his education outside the classroom. 

“I think that this project incorporated the sustainability aspect of renewable energy such as solar energy,” Nicholas said. “Having this opportunity to not only apply knowledge of renewable energy but also knowledge of engineering allowed me to expand my education outside the classroom. This experience also gave me the opportunity to learn about a specific area of renewable energy and how to better apply it to people’s lives.” 

To fulfill his service-learning component, Nicholas volunteers at the Corvallis Seeds for the Sol. The goal of this organization is to make solar energy more economical and accessible to families in Corvallis and surrounding communities. As a volunteer, Nicholas meets with Seeds for the Sol about once a month, where he is assigned projects. He then completes these projects independently and on his own time. One of his recent projects was to develop a carbon offset calculator, which has been incorporated into the Seeds for the Sol website. For this project, he researched how much carbon different modes of transportation emit and developed a system to calculate the carbon emissions for a specific number of miles. Once the emissions are calculated, an individual can donate funds to offset his carbon emission and help promote a carbon-neutral future. 

Nicholas has enjoyed being a volunteer at Seeds for the Sol because it has given him real-world experience in sustainability. 

“I think it allowed me to gain real-world experience in the field of sustainable energy which is the field I am interested in going into,” he said. “This has given me the opportunity to apply the skills I have learned in the classroom and improve other skills such as organization and communication skills. I have also gained experience in how to utilize all the information I have learned and apply it to many different projects.” 

This experience also directly relates to his Grand Challenge, which is something Nicholas is very passionate about. 

“I think this experience directly relates to the solar industry and iterates how important it is to increase the number of people who have the opportunity to use solar panels,” Nicholas said. “This in turn will decrease the cost of solar energy.” 

Nicholas has enjoyed the GCSP because it has allowed him to get out of his comfort zone and apply his engineering knowledge to real-world applications. 

“I think it challenged me to get out of my comfort zone of just going to class, studying, and getting good grades,” he said. “It has allowed me to apply the skills I learned in the classroom to multiple experiences and gave me the opportunity to work with a diverse group of individuals to develop products and ideas which is what I hope to do in the future.” 

Through the GCSP he learned that going outside his comfort zone may be hard, but it opens the doors to many new opportunities for personal and professional growth. His favorite part of the GCSP is the collaboration aspect. 

“My favorite thing about the Grand Challenge Scholars Program is the collaboration aspect of it,” Nicholas said. “There are so many different types of engineers in the program and having the opportunity to work with all of them creates a great way for ideas and solutions to be developed.”