Sean Green (E'09) has always enjoyed vacationing — it was his travel to places like Brazil, Mexico and South Africa that initially triggered his interest in water and sanitation problems around the world.
"I knew there were problems, especially in developing countries, and I knew I wanted to do something, but didn't know what," said Green.
Green decided to pursue a graduate degree that would arm him with the tools to help. His college advisor, Catherine Peters (S'92), recommended a program at her alma mater.
"Once I read about the professors and visited Carnegie Mellon, I knew that of all the programs I was considering, it was the one I wanted," said Green.
Now a fourth year Ph.D. student in Carnegie Mellon's Engineering and Public Policy Department, Green is already making a difference. Using a series of computer modeling tools, he's identifying the best ways to curb the spread of diarrheal illness — which kills 2.2 million people each year in more than 192 countries.
According to Green, artificial intelligence is good for real time processing of information.
"It can also be used to fill in the gaps when a country has missing inputs or messy data," explained Green. "This type of analysis tells you a different side of the story than the one you get with regular statistics."
In an article published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, Green — along with Carnegie Mellon professors Mitchell J. Small and Elizabeth A. Casman — estimated that improving rural sanitation by 65 percent worldwide would save the equivalent of 1.2 million lives.
They also found that countries with a lower literacy rate and less economic stability had more frequent outbreaks.
He and CSTEP are also working with a cardiologist in an impoverished area in India with one of the nation's highest child mortality rates. Using Green's research coupled with medical screening, they hope to cut the mortality rate in half over five years.
Eventually, Green hopes to become an advocate for this type of research.
"It's not the end-all-be-all, but it is a great way to help policymakers with decisions regarding sanitation or health spending," explained Green. "It gives credence to policymaker's recommendations, because they're driven by data."