Greetings from Berkeley. This month, we feature I-House alumnus and marathon runner David Fanfan for our Where are they now series. Not only does he have an excellent last name, David is one of I-House’s biggest “fans” on social media. Highlights from our email conversation are below.
So, where is David now?
Hint: It’s the city where the first International House opened in 1924.
LF: Hi David. Please introduce yourself.
David: My name is David Ulrick Fanfan and I was born in Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. My family is a mixture of Haitian (predominant), Guadeloupean and French Caribbean descent. I lived at International House Berkeley in 1999 – 2000 as a graduate student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. Prior to my time in Berkeley, I spent most of my childhood in the Northeast between Brooklyn, N.Y and the U.S. Naval Base in Southeastern Connecticut in a military environment.
LF: What was your degree in/area of study?
David: I completed my Masters of Science in Engineering from the Structural Engineering, Mechanics, and Materials, Department from UC Berkeley in Fall of 2000. During my time, I had the opportunity to also take some City Planning classes that focused on urban development in underdeveloped countries, and how ethnic diversity in infrastructure development has a role in developing urban communities.
LF: How has the mission of International House manifested itself in your life?
David: While living at I-House, I realized that one of the best ways to work with, negotiate, and communicate with diverse groups of people is to spend time with each other doing what all humans have in common: the need to eat, relax, and share good quality time with each other. Set aside our differences and find common ground at the most basic level. This is why my experience at I-House made a lasting impact because I would study, eat, and engage, throughout the course of a year, to develop friendships and relationships with both ethnically diverse Americans and foreign nationals.
LF: What is your role now?
David: I started my own single-member limited liability corporation in New York State where I provide engineering and management consulting to various companies involved in infrastructure development. I also conduct building inspections on mostly new high-rises, and existing registered landmark renovations for construction projects within the five boroughs of New York City.
LF: How has your I-House experience shaped your view of the world or different cultures?
David: Before living at I-House, it was easy for me to be content with being the type of civil engineer that would stay confined to the design office, with minimal interaction with international counterparts. The I-House experience taught me that I had colleagues from all over the world that shared the same ambitions, ready to make a positive impact on the world as a whole, not just for their respective countries and local communities.
LF: What have you been up to since you left Berkeley?
David: I can recall vividly some advice given to me by Dr. Paulo Monteiro and his colleague after I presented to them my Masters oral exam at Cal: “Never stop studying.” I took that to heart and all my career endeavors since then challenged me to keep my disciplined study regimen while embracing new environments. Some of my engineering consulting work contributions include:
- The High Level Waste Treatment Facility at the Hanford Vitrification Plant in Richland, Washington
- Gazebos, toll booths, park shelters, and other low-rise building structures that were shipped for field installation throughout the United States and its territories, and Hong Kong.
- Seismic vibration isolation systems, Emergency Generators, and other Mechanical equipment to be installed as components to buildings throughout the United States, its territories, and overseas.
- Foundations for low- and high-rise buildings, marine and off shore structures, and support of excavation for construction projects.
These engineering endeavors were made possible through continuing my education, as Dr. Monteiro advised, where I earned qualifications, such as Professional Engineering Registration in California and New York, an International MBA accredited by the internationally recognized Association of MBAs, Building Inspector certifications accredited by the International Code Council, and a Certification in Global Affairs from New York University.
LF: Have you been back to Berkeley? If so, what was it like coming back?
David: I visited back in June 2013 for the San Francisco Marathon. The day before the race, I visited my old stomping grounds. All the emotions of a struggling student came back to me as I reminisced on the special time I spent in Berkeley.
I did notice the new buildings added near the Bechtel Engineering building, as well as some of the new construction on campus that was in progress at the time. I noticed the Sather Road improvements and the renovations to the front entrance of I-House. I was also pleased to see the improvements to the California Memorial Stadium.
LF: What is your favorite way to stay connected to I-House?
David: Prior to the explosion of social media, I regularly received the International House Times publications and I would visit the website to see the latest happenings. Social Media has allowed me to stay informed on event announcements and day-to-day activity more quickly and efficiently.
LF: I have noticed that you frequently share positivity on Social Media. In fact, I have re-shared some of your motivational quotes to our networks. How did you become such a motivational and positive person?
David: I can’t really say that it happened over night or any one particular experience that made me decide to keep discipline and a positive attitude. Fundamentally, I live in a positive, progressive manner because of my Christian faith. I also have family and relatives that keep me grounded and remind me how blessed I am to have had the experiences I’ve had. Many of my peers in the communities I come from are not as fortunate. So I make sure that I give 100% to every challenge and opportunity that comes my way. Don’t take anything for granted.
LF: Do you have any marathon and travel plans on the horizon?
David: This year my focus is to run marathons in the Northeast United States with the goal of obtaining the qualifying time required to gain entry into the Boston Marathon. So my schedule is filled with smaller races that include marathons and required shorter distances for the New York Road Runners. My big race will be the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon (TCS – Tata Consulting Services) held in the five boroughs on November 1, 2015. I do have aspirations of coming out to Berkeley to run the town’s annual half marathon, which is also in November. However, since it has been so close to the NYC event, I haven’t been able to schedule the Berkeley race yet. I will though, because earning this medal from a town I once called home will be great for my collection.
LF: I am curious about the origin of your last name, Fanfan.
David: My father was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where he spent his early years before emigrating to the United States. The name Fanfan is my father’s last name passed down from his father who was born in Jeremie, Haiti. You can trace the name back to my French European ancestral slave masters that owned and interbred with their African slaves in the former Caribbean territories of the French Empire, well before Haitian Independence. As far as my ethnic identity, I guess only a DNA test can answer what the origins of my genetic make-up is, since physical characteristics in my family are so diverse.
LF: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
David: I-House is very deeply rooted in my personal pursuit for better global citizenship. Even back then I envisioned my engineering career as one that would bridge my American educational upbringing with international infrastructure development. This was reflected in the studies I took interest in at Berkeley and later in my professional career.
My most recent personal development in this global arena was through my visit to the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland back in June 2014. I traveled with a delegation of students and professionals affiliated with New York University. There I took time to understand the processes and systems involved in international negotiations and policy making in international development. I related it back to infrastructure development and sought to understand how the world can extend public infrastructure policy standards such as building codes and emergency management to underdeveloped communities. The State of California and the U.S. Geological Survey has all the standards in place to prevent catastrophic loss of life in case the Hayward Fault, that passes right near I-House, were to finally erupt as anticipated. Why do so many people in underdeveloped countries like Haiti have to die when their earthquakes happen? The technology and standards are there to be used in development all over the world as a fundamental human right. We all share a common humanity, no matter what our background is. I-House is a stellar example of providing an accommodating environment where the best global minds can share in this common humanity.
LF: This is certainly aspirational for our engineers and students of all disciplines. Thank you for making a difference in the world, and for sharing your stories. Please stop by I-House when you’re in the Bay Area again.
David: Thank you. I look forward to visiting in November. Go Bears!
Learn more about David at: http://www.davidufanfanpe.com.
If you are an I-House alum and would like to be featured in our Where are they now series, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510)643-7735. Video format messages are welcome.
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