Carnegie Mellon University

Tess Roscoe

January 04, 2023

Alumni in Service: Bringing Clean Water to Honduras Community

tess-graduation.jpgAlumna Tessa Roscoe (MS ’15) has always been passionate about international development and travel. Before attending CMU, she taught in China for two years—and during her CEE studies, she took a summer internship in Thailand. Her interest in other cultures and engineering came together at CEE, leading her to a career designed to help others. Today, she is an environmental engineer at Eastern Research Group (ERG) in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. There, she serves as a contractor for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, supporting industrial wastewater regulations under the EPA Engineering and Analysis Division. Roscoe adds that she got the job through connections made during a  CMU Technical Opportunities Conference.

Roscoe also supports her passion for giving back by volunteering with Engineers Without Borders Northern Virginia (EWB-NOVA). She joined the Northern Virginia professional chapter as soon as she relocated to the region—invited by a former classmate serving as chapter VP. “I learned about their work in Honduras, as well as domestic projects here in the US, and I was hooked. The idea of supporting communities both at home and abroad was personally meaningful to me. Still, the work also allowed me to develop professional engineering and leadership skills outside of my newfound job in government contracting,” she says.

tess-project.jpgRoscoe’s volunteerism includes completing an EWB project in El Sauce, Honduras. It took seven years (and overcoming many obstacles, she states), but with the assistance of nonprofit partner Armour of Hope, she helped to map the mountaintop community's existing drinking water storage and distribution system. She also evaluated the local geology and hydrogeology for alternative water sources to solve the community’s reliance on outdated, inconsistent, and unsafe spring boxes. Finally, she helped to create a sustainable funding model for the future maintenance and upkeep of the new system.

“We partnered with Primero Agua, an in-country non-profit well-drilling team, to drill a 208-feet-deep well that provides a consistent and safe supply of drinking water for the community of nearly 400 families. We are exceedingly proud that our well has continued to operate despite the many climatological setbacks the community has experienced, including two CAT-5 hurricanes that hit the region head-on in the same week.”

Roscoe also provided hands-on support domestically at Virginia’s Hollin-Meadows Elementary School Outdoor Education program. “We helped to develop and install a drip-irrigation system, solar-powered pump, and rainwater storage cistern for the students' educational garden.” Plans a full-scale farm on school property to provide fresh produce for the school's cafeteria.

tess-project-2.jpgShe says that her experience at CEE provided a foundation that allowed her to dive into the technical work required for EWB projects. “I can speak fluently and confidently on various water quality issues and innovative solutions. But I think more importantly, my time at CMU prepared me to be a global citizen, to work in concert with people from a wide range of backgrounds, both culturally and professionally.”

Roscoe adds that CEE showed her how to collaborate and communicate with engineers and non-engineers, to find commonalities between approaches to problem-solving, and to craft sustainable solutions that capitalize on team members’ strengths.

“At CEE, I learned how to truly hear my clients; to ask questions that allow me to understand the needs driving the project and not just grasp the superficial technical challenges.” She mentions that volunteering with communities across the globe means that she must be familiar with multi-disciplinary solutions that address all aspects of a community’s needs.

She encourages students and professionals to take part in volunteer opportunities like EWB. “The real reward happens in the day-to-day process of doing your research on a region, having in-depth discussions with NGO partners and community leaders, and performing technical diligence to develop engineering solutions that will stand strong and serve the community well into the future,” Roscoe says that not all EWB projects include international travel and asserts that working with her local chapter members has provided her greatest professional and personal growth. “The travel is just the icing on the cake.”

Roscoe is grateful to CEE for helping her to become a thoughtful and considerate leader. She’s taken those lessons into her volunteer positions, including president of EWB-NOVA for two years, vice president for three years, and student chapter mentor, secretary, and project lead each for one year. “In every role, I drew on what I learned as a GSA representative and technical writing coach at CMU, honoring my team's directives while making executive decisions that enable us to be self-sustaining and future-proof. My time at CMU prepared me well for every role I've played with EWB-NOVA.”