This past summer Engineers Without Borders–USA (EWB) sent a small team of engineers to Simwatachela, Zambia, a very remote village in sub-Saharan Africa, to install drinking water wells to over 10,000 villagers.
“While potable water is important to the villagers, it means so much more to them than clean drinking water,” explained Jennifer Sloan Ziegler, Ph.D., EI, A.M.ASCE, who served as the project manager during the preassessment trip in 2013. “It means the villagers have a constant source of water to grow their crops, thus reducing deaths caused by starvation and malnutrition. It means the parents can see their children grow to adulthood.
“But probably most importantly to the parents, it means the Zambian Government will [enable] teachers in this extremely rural area to provide the children with basic education – something they have been denied until this point.”
All the time they were working on the water wells, Ziegler heard the Zambian parents say over and over again, “I want my children to grow up in a better place than I did.”
“That is why I do what I do, because I believe I can effect a change in the world,” stressed Ziegler, who as a student at Mississippi State University in 2010/2011 helped create the school’s first EWB chapter.
“There’s a strange rule in Zambia,” she added, “that states that even if a village has a schoolhouse, [and] if there is no access to clean water, the government will not provide a teacher to the village. Two of the villages in Simwatachela have schoolhouses but no teachers. That will change when this project is completed in a few years. I am proud that the children in 2 villages in the chiefdom will be able to attend schools with teachers because of the EWB project.”
If humanitarian efforts are Ziegler’s passion, then bridging the gap between engineering and public policy is her ambition.
“I believe that successful environmental regulation and politics requires an interdisciplinary approach between engineering, science, and policy,” says Ziegler, who is now serving a 2014 National Sea Grant College Program, Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship in the office of Senator Maria Cantwell [D-Washington], where she advises the Senator on marine policy. “This is the principle upon which I built my dissertation research and am now building my career. Being trained as an engineer, I strongly believe that my background allows me to bring strong technical knowledge to the table when developing effective policy. My technical knowledge and background are unconventional as I have sought to bridge engineering and policy in coastal and estuarine areas.”
Presently, Ziegler has had the opportunity to work on a bipartisan bill (S.507/HR-1208) on Capitol Hill to create a national park – in 3 states: Washington, New Mexico, and Tennessee – that would preserve historic sites and artifacts involved in the development of nuclear energy and the making of the atomic bomb. Upon its establishment, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park will share the ethical, cultural, and scientific implications of the first atomic weapon and its positive and negative impacts.
“I have decided to develop my career using my technical background [to inform] marine policy, as this area is vital to the country,” notes Ziegler, who served as lecturer for the Aerospace Engineering Department at Mississippi State University in 2013. “I believe that marine policy is where I can affect the most change for a better prospect for future generations.
“Through my coursework, internships, and now my job, I see how the interaction between engineering and policy can result in attainable environmental standards. I have embarked on building a career [and developing abilities which can] inform scientific-based change in coastal and estuarine policy.”
In her capacity as a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, Zeigler says she works to help reinforce Senator Cantwell’s position on natural resources, ocean, and marine issues, as well as issues relating to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Since beginning her Fellowship in January 2013, Zeigler says she has learned how Capitol Hill works and believes it will help her career goal of translating science and engineering into policy.
“My hope,” concluded Zeigler, who is a member of the National Board of Directors for the National Association of Engineering Student Councils and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Committee, “is that by being a New Face of Civil Engineering, I will [help] increase awareness of the importance of bridging the gap between engineering and policy, and exemplify to others the importance of technical advisers in policy, [not to mention] alternative career options for someone with an engineering background.”