There are many types of doctors in this world. Dr. Ernesto Marco Aieta is a Doctor of Engineering whose passion is to make sure all citizens in our world have clean and safe water to drink. Dr. Aieta, the recently appointed Vice President of the Board of *“Engineers Without Borders,” says that solving inadequate water issues will free up children in many developing countries so they can concentrate on their education and building a better future, and not just fetching water back and forth all day from distant sources. With over 25 years of previous experience in environmental engineering, Dr. Marco Aieta, now a partner with Carollo Engineers, leads Carollo in the planning and implementation of water projects and has also focused on providing safe drinking water through source quality control, treatment technology and distribution system protection. Dr. Aieta says that “Engineers Without Borders” is at a critical period now, going from being a small to a large organization. With all of their development, it is a challenge to service the demands they have. Aieta says: “Sometimes it’s difficult for many to grasp the longevity of what we are trying to do. By helping to train the engineers of the future, we are cascading all over the place – there are approximately 2.5 billion people globally who don’t have access to safe water!” Dr. Aieta has worked hard to help EWB achieve its goals and is committed to helping humans and nature stay in sync. His hope is that everyone will feel a sense of ownership when it comes to these issues. Dr. Marco Aieta reflects: “I feel very fortunate to have ended up doing what I’m doing with “Engineers Without Borders.” Our staff do a fantastic job. It’s the most worthwhile and passionate thing I’ve ever done. Whether it’s dealing with issues such as global warming, clean water, or keeping our EWB participants safe when we send them abroad, I am now at a stage where I can be effective in helping EWB grow.”
Were you interested in pursuing a career in Engineering when you were a young boy? Yes, I was always taking things apart, much to my parents’ dismay. I was always good mechanically, so I went to Northwestern University in Mechanical Engineering. “Stopped-out” for 5 years to be a ski bum among other odd jobs. My Father got me to go back to school at U of Cincinnati. Selected Civil & Environmental Engineering as a major and went on to Stanford for graduate work.
How did you first become involved with "Engineers Without Borders?" A mutual friend introduced me to the COB, and he asked me to join the board. I took a look at the great work EWB was doing, and felt I should at least try to help. Started on the fund raising committee and now serve as Vice President of the Board.
On a local level, what can we all do to help our global water crisis? Tough question. Not because there is nothing to be done, but because the problem has so many facets.
EWB has a 2-focus mission; the first is to help communities in the under-served world get and sustain access to clean water and sanitation. Then second is to broaden the educational experience of future engineers so that they are prepared and equipped to address and solve the global issues of water, sanitation, environmental sustainability and ultimately, improve the lives of all citizens of planet earth.
Supporting EWB, supports this long term goal. We currently have 12,000 members, both students and professional members. At this time, we have 123 established student chapters & 63 developing chapters - which makes a grand total of 186. We currently have 247 projects either active or completed. We have requests for many more projects, but are limited in what the infrastructure of the organization can handle. More money means we can support many more projects. Our projects provide great benefit for very little investment. We estimate that we have impacted the lives of thousands of participants in our projects, & we deliver clean water and sanitation for less than $2 per person for their lifetime. There is so much more to do. Over 4,000 children die each day from poor sanitation.
What policies do we need to reform in the U.S.? I’m not a politician, but I know that it takes vision and leadership, not just money, to solve many of the world’s environmental problems.
In my simple thinking, there is no better way to make lasting friends and allies in the world than to assure that all people will have access to good clean water, that all children will have access to safe housing, health care and education. With these basic needs filled, all people will have the opportunity to improve their economic quality of life and be productive, safe and happy members of community earth.
The UN Millienium goals embody some of this thinking, but delivery on the goals seems very difficult. EWB is delivering on these goals, one village at a time, one engineer at a time.
What do you consider the biggest obstacle to finding ways to provide clean water to developing countries? Priorities. There is no lack of technology, no lack of money and no lack of energy. But all of these resources are being directed to other activities because the priorities of saving lives and improving the quality of life for the poor of the world is a lower priority than international politics, financial gain and personal power.
How big a threat are climate changes to our environment? Very Big! Everyone, even President Bush, now believes that human activities are the major contributor to global warming. The threats are huge and most of them cannot be stopped at this point, but the duration can be minimized of we act decisively and soon. We have all seen the reports in the press; longer draughts, more severe floods, rising oceans, decrease agriculture, displacement of water supplies. The list is long and ugly!
What has been your biggest challenge in life so far? in your job? Balance and focus. It is very hard for me to find the right balance among family, work and outside interests. I tend to completely immerse myself in what I do, sometimes to the detriment of other aspects of my life. As I have reached middle age, the anxiety of not doing it all, having it all, has diminished so that I find I can balance the important things in life. The most important, of course, is my family.
Your greatest accomplishment? I think my educational experiences have been the most influential in my life and therefore have led to all my success and accomplishments. My time at Stanford, and especially my advisor Paul Roberts, formed my thinking about engineering and how to apply the discipline to solving problems and achieving goals. Moreover, the friends I made at both Stanford and Harvard have contributed greatly to the richness of my life.
What projects are you working on now? A lot! The most important though, is launching a new technology that has the potential of generating energy in wastewater treatment process to such an extent, that no outside energy purchase would be required. The economic benefits are clear, for a utility and its customers, but there is also a net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from both energy generation and also in the treatment process.
If it relates, ten years from now, what water shortage problems do you see us facing? The same but worse. More people on the planet without access to clean water and sanitation, translocation of water supplies due to global warming, more treatment requirements for lower quality water sources, more energy needed to desalinate costal ocean supplies. I think we are up to the challenge. Let’s hope I’m right!
What do you do with the "leisure time" you have? Leisure time? What’s that again? I try to do whatever the family wants to do. We ski some, we have motorcycles so my wife and I ride when we can; we plan to get the twins dirt-bikes this year and get them started.
Who is the most interesting person you have ever met? Mario Cuomo, Governor of New York.
What is something that was instilled in you from the time you were young? My father was an Italian immigrant. He left Italy when he was 12, went to live in Argentina and came to the US in 1939 with his brother, sister and mother. He served in the Army during WWII and met and married my mother in 1948, after the war. My father always said that family was the most important part of life, but education would open the doors of the world. He worked hard and put my sisters and me through College. He was very proud of us all.
When we were growing up, we all had lots of activities and things to do, but we never missed Sunday dinner with the family. And all holidays and celebrations were sacred. Grades were all important and nothing less than the best was acceptable. I remember coming home from High School with 4 A’s and a B, and dad asked who got my other A!
Do you have a favorite quote, saying or motto that has helped guide you through life? The motto of the Army Corps of Engineers in WWII …. ‘The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer”.
In your global travels, what country, city, place has intrigued you the most? New York City. I love Manhattan. Great fun, great excitement, always action!
What are you most looking forward to in the future? Retirement at 99.
How do you want to be remembered by future generations? He was a good man; he lived with grace and dignity.
Dr. Aieta’s Awards & Recognitions: Aieta has served on the USEPA Drinking Water Advisory Council, the AWWARF Research Advisory Committee and numerous industry committees and workgroups dealing with drinking water regulations and protection of public health. He was awarded the University of Cincinnati, College of Engineering, and Distinguished Alumni Engineering Executive Award and was the Thomas R. Camp Lecturer, Boston Society of Civil Engineers.
*Engineers Without Borders – USA (EWB-USA) is a non-profit humanitarian organization, based at 1811 Lefthand Circle, Suite A1, Longmont, CO 80501 EWB is established to partner with developing communities worldwide in order to improve their quality of life. Engineers have a central role in building a sustainable future; in fact, they have an obligation to provide leadership in that direction. For more information call: 303-772-2723.