“Those Moments Confirmed My Purpose as a Civil Engineer” Says Young Engineer of Humanitarian Service

February 19, 2014

This is the ninth in a series of profiles introducing ASCE’s New Faces of Civil Engineering 2014. One of the most rewarding experiences a young civil engineer can undertake is to be part of a humanitarian mission overseas. To help during disaster-relief efforts, civil engineers provide information on proper structural architecture and geological and environmental damage, and advice on whether to tear down and rebuild, or else redesign, public transportation. Today, read about Sean G. Walsh

sgwSituated in the Lugari District of Kenya, the Matunda Health Center (MHC) is the only outpatient clinic serving the approximately 20,000 residents living in the area. However, after opening in 1999, operations were greatly compromised by contamination of water from a hand-dug water well used daily by the MHC.

 Under the direction of Sean G. Walsh, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, M.ASCE, the New York Professionals Chapter of Engineers Without Borders–USA (EWB) sent a team to Kenya in 2009 with the main objective of designing and implementing a potable water system for the MHC that was efficient and sustainable. While working full-time at Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., and earning his master’s degree as a part-time student at Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Walsh managed the technical design, construction, and overall completion of the center’s first potable water system, which ultimately led to a substantial increase in the MHC’s ability to treat patients.

As part of the first phase of the project, the team managed the installation of a 120-meter-deep well (with an electric-powered submersible pump), conducted topographic surveys, and formed valuable relationships with members of the community. Before leaving, the team completed a health assessment survey to gauge the impact of the project and its success.

 As project manager of the Matunda Team, Walsh discovered that the overall conditions at the hospital greatly improved because of the availability of potable water. Walsh found that the water system they put in place was working so well that the hospital management noted an increase in the quality of care, the number of patients treated, and government funding.

 “This was a five-year project,” says Walsh, who is now a geotechnical project engineer employed by Eustis Engineering Services LLC, in New Orleans, Louisiana. “I started out in 2009 just to work on some technical design from New York. But two years later the project manager unexpectedly had to leave the project and they asked me to take it over. Overseeing a project of that scope was a terrific opportunity that I most likely wouldn’t have had until well further into my career.

 “I believe that we as civil engineers are civil servants and are here to help and improve the lives [of] not only ourselves but…our immediate community and society as a whole. I look back at my experience as a volunteer in Africa as a social responsibility; to use what we have learned as professionally practicing engineers to enable people to gain access to basic human needs.”

 In December of 2010, Walsh and the rest of the EWB-NY team traveled back to the MHC to construct the new water system, which comprised a plumbing network for the 3 main buildings of the facility, a sustainable gray-water drainage system, and a steel tower to hold a 10-cubic-meter water tank. They also conducted a series of educational workshops to train the MHC hospital staff and key community members to maintain the system and to improve overall hygiene practices.

 “Once we completed construction, the water system had an immediate positive impact that I saw from MHC staff and from the people in the community, and those moments confirmed my purpose as a civil engineer” explained Walsh, who also lists his experience with Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., designing features of the recently constructed flood protection systems surrounding New Orleans as one of the highlights of his early career. “It is very rewarding that I contribute to a profession able to help people and to improve their daily life. Sometimes an engineer with my low tenure would have to work many years before [they] get to this level of experience, exposure, and decision making.”

 In 2012, Walsh accepted an offer to continue practicing engineering in New Orleans and notes, “I moved from New York to New Orleans to work with Eustis Engineering Services, LLC, because I could grow as an engineer with a company committed to their social responsibility, clearly evidenced by their contribution to rebuilding the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan area in the days, weeks, and years after the devastation Hurricane Katrina brought here.”

 Next in the series, read about Natalie Weiershausen

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