Impact of Public Works in Ethiopia Inspired New Face of Civil Engineering Eset Alemu

January 10, 2014

This is the first profile in a series to introduce ASCE’s New Faces of Civil Engineering 2014. Designers of the next bridge, skyscraper, or wastewater treatment plant, they are the leaders of tomorrow. Today, read about Eset Alemu.

Eset_Alemu_YMFWhen Eset Alemu, P.E., M.ASCE, reflects back on what inspired her to become a civil engineer, she recalls growing up in Ethiopia and being struck by the important role civil engineers played in advancing her country’s development in transportation, energy, and infrastructure.

“In Ethiopia I got to see how people were heavily impacted by infrastructure projects that were being implemented by the government, the community, or the NGOs [nongovernmental organizations],” recalls Alemu. “That had a huge effect on me and helped shaped my thoughts on what I wanted to do when I graduated from school.

“I remember considering civil engineering as a career path when I visited a hydropower station during a high school field trip. I was impressed and inspired by how the river was harnessed to create a significant impact in the life of the city, its people, and its industries.

Alemu notes that Ethiopia is rich in natural resources but that its potential has not been developed to the point that people are making full use of it. “That is one of the reasons I decided to become a civil engineer and go into water resources management,” she says.

As a hydraulic engineer working in water resources planning, water infrastructure modeling, and hydraulic and hydrological analysis at the Bellevue, Washington, office of WEST Consultants Inc., Alemu brings her passion for using engineering as a tool for solving water-related problems. Three years ago she, along with her colleagues at West Consultants, worked on the construction of a real-time operations system for Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin (ACF Basin) for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The ACF River Basin is the watershed the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint Rivers, which flow through Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, and in the ACF project Alemu worked on building an integrated system that helps manage that whole drainage basin better.

“That was my first project when I joined WEST Consultants, so it was sort of trial by fire,” says Alemu, who earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Addis Ababa University and her master’s in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Washington. “The project took two years to complete, and getting into the details, seeing it built from the ground up, delivering it to the client, giving them training on using the system, and then actually seeing it in use was very rewarding.”

Actively involved as a mentor and volunteer in her community, Alemu has been an engaged member of the ASCE Seattle Section, where she gives her time to several of their engineering and science education mentoring outreach events for high-school and college students. With the Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA) Puget Sound Professionals Chapter since 2008, she has mentored students at Seattle University and also coordinated its EWB-USA Student Chapter and Addis Ababa University faculty in Ethiopia to design an orphanage near Addis Ababa.

Serving as an EWB-USA project lead, Alemu is helping to build a wastewater treatment facility for a coffee processing plant in the community of Tierra Nueva, in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Last January she traveled to Matagalpa with a team of volunteers and engineering students from the University of Central America to assess the feasibility of the project and collect data to support design of a wastewater processing system for a coffee processing plant.

“I am very humbled and honored to be a New Face of Civil Engineering,” Alemu says. “I think this recognition highlights what I am trying to tell the students whom I am mentoring: that civil engineering is a great profession and will have a great impact on society as a whole.”

 Next in the series, read about Kimberly Gee

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