Carnegie Mellon University

Amber James

Amber JamesMajor: Technical Writing and Communication
Minor: Biomedical Engineering
Adviser: Necia Werner

Sustainability and Technical Communications in Global Health Projects

People in underdeveloped nations die from illnesses that can be cured with over-the-counter medication. A leading cause of death in these countries is diarrhea, caused by parasites in unclean water.

The field of global health is currently addressing these problems by developing projects including water systems, clinics and community buildings to decrease health disparities. In the past, many of these projects were unsustainable. For example, some non-profit organizations built water pumps in underdeveloped nations, which no one in the communities knew how to fix. To address this, there has recently been a movement in global health to embrace sustainability.     

My thesis will be a non-fiction book highlighting the importance of sustainability within the field of global health and the role of technical communication in improving sustainability. I will look at technology-based communications to the general public and communications about technical subjects in project development, focusing on global health projects and infrastructures in rural areas in Latin America. This will be communicated through research of non-profit organizations that prioritize sustainability and a small narrative portion detailing my personal experiences on these projects.


I never thought joining CMU’s Global Water Brigades organization would change my life. When I went to the first meeting, they told us we would be building water systems for people in Central America who didn’t have clean water. When spring break came, we departed Pittsburgh by plane to Honduras.

I didn’t realize that I would see others in living in conditions that I would never have to endure – that little girls there couldn’t go to school because they had to spend hours every day lugging heavy jugs of water to their homes, or that the water they were carrying was infected with parasites and fecal matter. I was sitting on the plane, ear buds in, oblivious to it all. After pick-axing and digging trenches that would eventually fit pipelines for the water system, I developed a deep interest in the field of public health.

I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. I loved medicine growing up – my mom often found me sitting in my room watching open-heart surgeries on TV instead of cartoons! I also had a strong interest in reading and writing. Among my favorite books are “Mountains Beyond Mountains” and “Tuesdays with Morrie” because they highlight the meaning of true compassion. These books made me want to serve others in debilitating medical situations and in underdeveloped countries.

I want to be a doctor and I want to be a writer, so I decided to pursue both by aspiring to be a doctor and writing books pertaining to the field of public health. With this project, I hope to better understand the public health field and how technical communications plays a role in sustainability.