Building EARTH: From construction worker tu graduate

Filed Under: EARTH News
Date: November 19th, 2020

Walter Picado Portuguez (’97, Costa Rica) was a teenager in rural Pocora when construction trucks began arriving at a dilapidated banana plantation nearby. He and the other locals were intrigued by the sudden surge in activity, not fully comprehending what was taking shape. Over time, that site would be transformed into EARTH University’s Guácimo Campus. Workers came to build the academic and residential facilities, the cafeteria, and more. Amid the excitement, 15-year-old Walter applied to be a construction assistant during his three-month vacation from high school.

Walter with his classmates and Professor Richard Taylor.

Walter with his classmates and Professor Richard Taylor.

For two consecutive years, Walter worked on the construction site, in a job that was “difficult yet satisfying”. He helped raise walls, unload trucks, dig ditches. He learned about electrical wiring and the intricacies of aqueduct systems. He laid cement blocks, flooring, and sinks in spaces that he himself would someday inhabit.

 

Walter and the rest of the class on an irrigation and drainage course tour.

Walter and the rest of the class on an irrigation and drainage course tour.

“Today, I say with great pride that EARTH began educating me before its doors even opened,” Walter says. “It had never crossed my mind to apply to study at EARTH because I wasn’t aware of its specialties. So, I decided to attend Tecnológico de Costa Rica and become a construction engineer. A year later, some of my Guácimo friends who were studying at EARTH invited me to visit them on campus. I fell in love with it immediately. Because I had been there during the early construction stage, it was incredible to see the finished transformation. My friends told me about the University’s philosophy and how they themselves, through experiential learning, were being prepared as leaders of change. At that point, I knew EARTH was right for me.”

Walter graduated with honors in 1997.

Walter graduated with honors in 1997.

And it was. Walter applied quickly to beat the fast-approaching deadline. His paper application, which he transported to campus via his pocket, got so damp and wrinkled that he had to re-flatten it very carefully before submitting it. He took an entrance exam, was interviewed by faculty members, and – finally – was admitted to the University. The joy was immense, and he felt proud about his family’s farming heritage.

Walter at a Class Meeting.

Walter at a Class Meeting.

“When I look back, I realize my EARTH experience was the best thing that happened to me – personally and professionally,” adds Walter, who graduated with honors in December 1997. “The University hones the talents that each student has within them. It helps young people develop a wealth of technical knowledge as well as the sensitivity to effectively work for and with others.”

As a professional, Walter has worked in research, teaching, and agricultural production at rural extensions and elsewhere. He says he has called on his EARTH education in every job he has held because it endowed him with the leadership abilities to not only make intelligent decisions but also to carry them out.