Applying Industrial Engineering to Global Diplomacy and Humanitarianism

By combining the logistics of industrial engineering and the humanity of political science, Sebastian Chávez Da Silva is deeply committed to making a global impact with his degree — even in a time of crisis.

Sebastian Chávez Da Silva, E’24, industrial engineering, owes a lot to his family for inspiring his career path.

“[My parents] both immigrated to this country for the idea of education, for the idea of opportunities that my sister and I… just wouldn’t have had elsewhere,” he says.

Through his studies at Northeastern, Chávez Da Silva has been able to combine humanitarian efforts with logistical work as an industrial engineering and political science major.

“I think the idea of working in diplomacy has been somewhat engrained in my family for the past few generations… [and] because of that, conversations were always held in terms of keeping posted with current events and even just playing games to better understand geography and different cultures.”

Chávez Da Silva’s first co-op was at Entegris as a Process Engineer. While he was grateful for the experience, it helped him realize how he did and didn’t want to apply his industrial engineering skills.

“I got a lot of exposure to manufacturing, which I knew going into it wasn’t a field I was super interested in, but it definitely verified [that] I’m not interested in going into manufacturing, which is equally as important out of a co-op, to figure out what you don’t want to do,” Chávez Da Silva says.

His second co-op experience at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, couldn’t have been a more different story. Just as his first co-op at Entegris helped him understand what kind of engineering application he wasn’t interested in, UNRWA helped him realize what he could accomplish with his degree.

“Like I mentioned with my first co-op, I don’t necessarily love the typical applications, which are oftentimes manufacturing or nitty-gritty supply chain logistics,” Chávez Da Silva says. “I really prefer more humanitarian-based, more human-based issues, and so working with the UN really gave me exposure to [these issues].”

The UNRWA in Amman, Jordan was Chávez Da Silva’s first global co-op experience but not his first time going abroad for his studies. For the spring 2022 semester, he studied at Yonsei University in South Korea. While he enjoyed studying abroad, co-op abroad proved to be a far more valuable experience for him.

The West Bank field office that Chávez Da Silva visited while in Palestine.

“With a co-op, it’s a lot more independent,” Chávez Da Silva says. “I actually think I learned significantly more from that experience in that sense.”

Life in Jordan took some time to get used to. Chávez Da Silva’s family is Latin-American, and he says that the work culture in Jordan especially was completely new to him.

“The familial culture and the personal culture is a lot more similar to my Latin-American roots, but the work culture is just completely unlike both things that I’m already used to,” Chávez Da Silva says. “Overcoming it… takes time and immersion and a willingness to learn, a willingness to speak to others, to ask questions and to be respectfully curious.”

Being on co-op in Jordan for the fall 2023 semester put Chávez Da Silva in an especially unique situation. Two months after starting his co-op, the war in Gaza began, leading to what he called “a night-and-day switch” in the work he did.

“Things run a lot more quickly,” Chávez Da Silva says. “People tend to be running around a lot more, and that’s just an experience you can’t mimic in a classroom setting.”

With this rapid shift in priorities, his work started to take on a more significant meaning as the stakes rose.

“The numbers behind my screen weren’t just a product anymore,” Chávez Da Silva says. “It wasn’t just materials, they were lives. At that point, it’s not just a manufacturing issue where the company’s at risk of losing money; it’s a humanitarian issue, and people are at risk of losing lives.”

It was also a crisis that impacted many of Chávez Da Silva’s colleagues, giving a further sense of reality to the situation.

“By the time that I had left, I think we’d lost about 140 colleagues in Gaza who had been killed by the strikes,” he says. “These aren’t just colleagues of ours, they’re friends, family of the colleagues that I was directly working with in Jordan.” Without his colleagues on the ground, he says, his team’s work in Jordan would be futile.

“Despite the threats they and their families face… our brave colleagues say goodbye to their loved ones and bravely put on their UN-blue vests to provide critical humanitarian assistance to those in need,” Chávez Da Silva says.

To honor those fallen colleagues, the UNRWA installed a memorial for them at the entrance of the department building where Chávez Da Silva worked. This served as a reminder of the brave sacrifices they made and was the biggest motivator to keep going in a crisis.

The UNRWA’s memorial for employees who lost their lives in the war in Gaza.

Despite the crisis, Chávez Da Silva was surrounded by people who he felt fortunate to work with, particularly Elia Marconi, UNRWA’s Head of Policy and Compliance Monitoring.

“A lot of people on our team really valued him and looked up to him as a motivator, and I think the way that he just brought everyone together in that sense when the emergency first hit… was honestly just really inspiring,” Chávez Da Silva says. “So even in a scenario where we have so much loss and destruction and devastation happening around us, I think the idea of cooler heads needing to prevail in order to keep on doing the work that matters and the work that helps people, it just really came true with him spearheading.”

Although co-op at the UNRWA led to unexpected challenges, Chávez Da Silva says that it seamlessly merged his engineering and political science interests.

“[The UNRWA] really combined my two majors in terms of having a political problem, having a diplomatic issue, but needing to address it with a very logistical and efficient response,” Chávez Da Silva says.

It’s also an experience that he is overwhelmingly grateful for specifically because of how unique it was.

“It’s such an invaluable resource,” Chávez Da Silva says. “You learn so much in a classroom, but learning something without applying it, I think, is a really limiting experience.”

Chávez Da Silva has also been hugely influenced by his time with the Student Government Association. He’s been involved with student governments for 13 years, and it’s dramatically shaped his career focus on the kinds of problems he wants to help solve.

“Working [with people] from different backgrounds is such an essential skill, and I think that student government has given me the ability to do that over the past 13 years,” he says.

In terms of what motivates him most, Chávez Da Silva says achievement for him doesn’t come in the form of a tangible award, but rather the knowledge that his work is having an impact.

“I’m just incredibly proud of the work that our team was able to accomplish, has been able to accomplish and is still accomplishing,” he says.

A mural close to the UNRWA office that reads “dignity for all.”

As for what’s next, Chávez Da Silva is looking towards grad school to be the first person in his family to get a master’s degree. Career-wise, he wants to continue the kind of work that serves as the midpoint of his two majors.

“I want to definitely work in optimizing logistics and operations related to humanitarianism and international security,” Chávez Da Silva says.

By using his knowledge of engineering and political science for humanitarian efforts, Chávez Da Silva hopes to make a true difference in the world of diplomacy, one that will make his parents proud.

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering