Student Feature – Laura Kohler

Laura KohlerLaura Kohler

PhD Civil Engineering, Civil Systems

EDC Certificate Completion: 2013

Undergraduate: Carroll College

What are your hobbies outside of academic life?

Running , rock climbing, backpacking, going to/participating in theater productions, cooking, drinking coffee 🙂

How did you become interested in global development?

I first became interested in global development at a presentation about Engineers without Borders (EWB). After my introduction, I worked with student colleagues to create an EWB student chapter at Carroll College where I received my undergraduate degree. Our first project focused on reducing the rate of high-school drop-outs on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, MT through mentorship/knowledge exchange program.

In 2006, a friend and I expanded the curriculum by developing a science based summer camp funded by a GEAR UP grant for students from the low income schools in Montana. As our chapter grew, we were eventually able to adopt a water-reuse project initiated by the Colorado State University EWB chapter outside of Colon, Queretaro, Mexico.

Both the Blackfeet Educational Program and the reuse system project reinforced my desire to make global engineering—social aspects tied to technical—my career, and have impacted my decision to do research applicable both within and without the U.S. borders.

Why did you join the EDC program?

By the end of my Peace Corps service in 2010 and upon leaving Honduras, it was clear that my focus had transitioned from providing access to drinking water to a focus on managing contaminant sources, specifically user-owned and maintained onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS).

In order to engage this new focus I needed training in the technical and social expertise to understand the severity of the problem and then work toward engineering solutions in wastewater treatment and management thus bringing me to University of Colorado and the EDC program.

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learned from the EDC program?

In general, the most valuable thing I have learned from both my education and experience in development is to admit when I don’t have the answer. “Pride is concerned with who is right and humility is concerned with what is right.” It is okay to not know the answer. And it is okay if someone else knows better. It is important when dealing with people’s livelihoods that this notion remains clear.

What do you hope to do after completing your EDC certificate?

Truly it is hard to say. I love sanitation and hope to continue work in the sector, so we will see.

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