Engineering Discipline: Civil & Environmental Engineering, International Development
Job Title: Program Engineer
Current Place of Employment: Global Hope Network International
Current Residence: Denver, CO
Hometown: Boulder, CO
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I received my PhD in Civil Engineering with a Sustainable Urban Infrastructure emphasis at the University of Colorado at Denver in December of 2013. My dissertation was titled “Sustainable phosphorus footprint modeling, global, national & local levels.” My advisor was Anu Ramaswami, PhD. I received a Master of Engineering degree in Chemical Engineering with a Water Resources Engineering emphasis from the University of South Carolina in December of 2001. I received a bachelor of science degree in Chemical Engineering with an Environmental Engineering emphasis from the University of Colorado at Boulder in May of 1998. There, my thesis was titled “Biodegradation of mono-chloro-benzene with novel bacteria.” My advisor was Angela Bielefeldt, PhD. I also received a Russian Language Certificate from the University of Saint Petersburg, Russia, in May 1996. My Russian oral and written research thesis was in St. Petersburg drinking water analysis, problems and solutions. My advisor was Yury Skorik, PhD.
When did you decide you wanted to be an engineer?
I decided I wanted to be an engineer in high school when I was looking at how to best protect the earth that I wanted to serve. I was looking at environmental science or environmental engineering, and it seemed that engineers had a bigger impact in all fields than that of scientists.
How did you choose your discipline?
When I was in high school, neither of my parents had received a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, I had a narrow scope of what was possible. I felt that for financial reasons I could only go to a college in my own state. Of my state schools, I wanted to find one that offered environmental engineering and Russian, which were my main interests in high school. Only the University of Colorado at Boulder offered Russian, and a civil or chemical engineering track that included an emphasis in environmental engineering. I decided to go with a chemical engineering major, as I had really appreciated chemistry in high school due to my amazing chemistry teacher, and minored in Russian.
Can you give us a history of your career as an engineer?
I began my career as an engineer with an internship at the City of Boulder Water Treatment Facility, where I helped to find solutions for an entrained error problem with their raw water. I then moved to South Carolina where I worked for the Air Force as a civil servant, overseeing their water, wastewater and oil cleanup programs. Then I moved to Denver to work with the EPA cleaning up Superfund sites, which are the dirtiest spills in the United States. Next, my wife and I felt called to mission, so we went with our first 9-month-old child to live in Cameroon, West Africa for 3 years. I worked in water supply, so essentially moved from Chemical/Environmental Engineering to Civil Engineering. When we came home I worked for Metro Wastewater in Denver on collection of wastewater and plant special projects. I then moved to Engineers Without Borders as a Project Engineer, and eventually became a Program Engineer. I now work as the Program Engineer for Global Hope Network International, assisting with water, sanitation, energy, civil and building projects.
Are there any cool projects you’re working on now?
Currently we’re working on a water well project which is right between two warring tribes, which is looking to bring the two tribes together. They have both bought into the project, and the outcome will be family garden plots from both villages in the no-man’s land between the villages. The well has been dug twice with only muddy water resulting from the efforts and a broken windmill. This latest project will be to drill the well again correctly and replace the broken windmill parts.
Can you tell us about your faith journey?
My faith journey has been an ever-deepening encounter with Jesus, but with many hiccups, like trying to get a dying car to move forward which only does so in short bursts followed by lots of work to get it moving again. I have always been a member of my local Catholic Church, even volunteering as a youth group leader in high school, then in college, and even at my first big job in South Carolina. However, I had big doubts about my faith. Other than a few fleeting moments at retreats, I never really felt the closeness of God. I remember even walking into a Sunday mass packed with people and wondering “All these people can’t really believe this stuff, can they?” This all stopped when I had my first conversion while working with the Air Force in Sumter, SC. I was volunteering for the youth group of Fr. Mike at St. Jude, one of the two Catholic Churches in town. I convinced our youth group to go see what the other church’s youth group was up to, so we showed up at their Rosary held in the church. I was amazed to see mostly Junior High School kids leading the Rosary and having memorized all the prayers, even the extra ones at the end of the rosary. I was even more blown away by Brad O’Berry, the youth group leader, who led the kids in songs with his guitar following the rosary outside the church. Brad invited me to his home that Friday for a Family Rosary, and became my mentor, leading me to Jesus through his beloved mother. I joined Cursillo with him, began going to daily mass, and fell deeper and deeper in love with our Lord. We even got to go to Italy as a youth group for the Jubilee in 2000. When I left South Carolina for my home and family in Denver, CO, I definitely slipped back in my faith, as my family had really felt I had become too Holier Than Thou, and I honestly have always, and still do, struggle with pride. I soon met the love of my life in Denver through a young adult retreat sponsored by the Community of the Beatitudes, where Sister Mary of the Visitation introduced Rachel and me. Rachel and I were married and discerned a call to mission with the Lay Mission Helpers Association. In our 4-month training I had my second and most powerful conversion. We were led by a most holy Spiritual Director, Carol Cowgil, who took us through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, which brought me the deepest sense of God I’ve ever felt, and taught me how to connect with him daily to strengthen my love for him. This love deepened during our 3-year mission when we had lots of time to devote to spiritual reading and lived right next to many holy priests and nuns. This connection to consecrated continued upon our return to Denver, where we connected again with the Community of the Beatitudes, which is applying to become an Ecclesial Family made up of consecrated sisters, priests and lay faithful. These holy men and women continue to inspire and teach us how to give in more to our Lord daily, and are a tremendous gift from God for our faith.
Has your faith played a part in your work as an engineer?
Since our call to mission I have realized that I can use my skills as an engineer to bring food and water to the poor Christ. This has been such a boon to me, to be able to marry my faith and my work as an engineer, and I am extremely grateful for this.
Are there any particular projects you’ve been a part of or stories that illustrate that connection?
I was sent to Cameroon to assist the local Project Manager of the Kumbo Diocese Social Welfare Department, named Wilfred Lola Paprika. He had completed a water project for a nearby village that was funded by the German lay association, MISEREOR. He had done such a great job on the one project that they decided to fund him for 30 more. That was when the bishop asked for me to assist Wilfred with project management. That was just fine, but then Aloysius and his son Eugene showed up at our office, letting me know that they wore not one of the lucky 30 to receive a water project, but their village was in dire need of water. Even though we had no money at the diocese, I decided to start a project with the community at Wilfred’s prodding. I found Village Project Management training from a Peace Corps volunteer in French Cameroon. I translated the training and came to Kikoo, letting them know I must come out for 7 trainings before I would look for money for them, and every time I came out they would have to pay my 20 cent bus fare and complete homework. The homework started as a community decision that this was their highest priority project, followed by a map of their community, a census of all villagers, and eventually a household survey which included water, sanitation and health information. All of this culminated in a Project Funding Proposal that the community had put together. Now they would have the skills to put the next funding proposal together themselves when they wanted sanitation or power, and they wouldn’t need me anymore. They did many things to prove their ownership in the project. They formed a water committee to govern the new system, dug a 7-kilometer 1-meter deep ditch to pipe the water from the spring they found. They also brought stones on their heads to the top of the mountain above their village to build a storage tank to feed their community with water. Lastly, and most importantly, they paid 10% of the Capital Construction Costs, a full $1000, which was extremely difficult for villagers in a country with a 40% unemployment rate (the US unemployment was 25% at the height of the Great Depression) and a $1/day minimum wage. Because of this, we were able to partner with Engineers Without Borders, and brought 14 stand pipes (public faucets) to the community, so they no longer had to walk 5 km for nasty river water but 50 m for crystal clean water year-round.
What is your life like as an engineer practicing your faith in the day to day?
As a faithful engineer, I must constantly keep my recipients in mind. Even though I may not interact with them everyday, they are the reason I work hard to provide sustainable solutions for their infrastructure needs. At the same time I must do this ethically. I must take the extra resources to ensure our projects meet local and international codes and standards. I must wait for a community to truly be ready for a project, not just going by my agenda but theirs, so I don’t just give them fish but teach them to fish.
What advice would you give to young engineers who are passionate about their faith and want to live a life of virtue as an engineer or make a difference in the world?
Know that your every small decision counts. The Lord is building you up in small things now so that he may trust you with bigger responsibilities to come. Ethical issues come up constantly in Engineering, and you must continually take decisions slow and make sure they align with your faith.
You can make a difference in the world, and potentially even in international development. Understand that you first need to build your skills as an engineer, which could be 4-10 years including your PE if you’re a Civil Engineer. These are critical pieces of design and construction experience before you venture into international development as a full time position.
View Joshua Knight's profile at the Global Hope Network here.
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