James Murduca is a son of New Jersey with a heart of gold. While pursuing a Masters Degree at the University of South Florida in Civil Engineering, James learned of the work Brick by Brick was doing for the people of Uganda. James believes that access to clean and safe water and sanitation systems is a human right. This month we interviewed James about his two years working with Brick by Brick.
What has inspired your interest in engineering in the global context, especially tackling tough water and sanitation issues that are common in the developing world?
Ever since deciding to pursue a career in engineering, my purpose has always been to use my skills and to develop projects in the field to improve the quality of life for people around the world. Upon graduating from The College of New Jersey with my Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2013, I knew that I enjoyed my fluid mechanics courses and was deeply passionate about water as a precious resource. Having learned that millions of people have limited access to basic amenities like clean running water, I desired to utilize my time and skill set to improve this situation by any means possible. However, I did not know how I could do this. While considering different opportunities and career paths, I discovered a program that included pursuing my Master of Science in Civil Engineering with a Concentration in Water Resources at the University of South Florida and a two-year internship experience with Brick by Brick to focus on water and sanitation. Given my career and service objectives, I could not think of a better option.
You have been working with Brick by Brick Construction Company for almost two years, what accomplishment/s are you most proud of?
Generally, my favorite accomplishments are when our staff work as a team and use our diverse talents and experience to complete a task or a project most effectively. One example is from a time when we needed to assess multiple clients’ school sites for upcoming projects. Given the fast growth of the company, we have been receiving many more inquiries requiring us to use our time more efficiently. Approximately a year into my service, the construction manager, David Mutesaasira, and I needed to assess four distant sites. Combining David’s communication skills and my strategic planning, we were able to assess all four sites in one day, which would have seemed impossible at the time of my arrival. Effectively combining our strengths to arrive at the best possible outcomes is when I feel most proud of our work. Another time, a headmaster of a school asked David to alter an original design to include a security light at the expense of losing the only light in one teacher’s residence. David and I discussed this issue and were able to adjust the design, such that the security light and the teacher’s light could be included without requiring additional equipment.
All of us who work in development deal with failure. Can you tell us a brief story of where you/we have failed and what we have learned from it?
One failure was when we unintentionally constructed one of our latrine projects at a larger scale than the original design approximately four months after my arrival. The latrines now had unnecessary stances for the students, and the additions increased the cost of the project. Adjusting the construction would have required a further increase in the cost, so the client now had a latrine with more stances. Recognizing this mistake, I reflected on the causes. In regards to construction and development projects, clear and consistent communication are extremely important for success. This issue could have been prevented with improved communication. As a result of this experience, I have focused on effective communication with all staff to ensure that all of us have the same understanding of our shared work. I have learned that expressing any uncertainties, doubts, or misunderstandings and confirming mutual understanding among teams are extremely beneficial toward producing the best outcomes.
You are currently working on a very innovative research project with the support of Brick by Brick. Can you tell us a bit about what you are working on?
My research project includes both a water needs assessment and a feasibility study of a sustainable water treatment technology. The water needs assessment includes surveys on water managers’ attitudes, knowledge, and practices of drinking water management, an observational sanitary inspection, and quantitative water quality tests. The treatment technology uses excess heat from a stove to disinfect water constantly flowing through a coiled pipe embedded in the chamber. This technology encompasses the three pillars of sustainability: economic, social, and environmental. The system is inexpensive to construct and eliminates the need for additional fuel for boiling because cooking and heat treatment are performed at the same time. The system also uses local materials and heat treatment, which is a commonly accepted and understood type of effective treatment option. Lastly, this system reduces the amount of fuel, which is often firewood, hence preventing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. The construction staff and first users’ have been eager to test and use the system. After explaining the system to the cook, Maria, at the pilot school, she was very happy to reduce time needed in boiling water for the children.
James, you leave Uganda in July after two years of dedicated service, what's up next for you?
I am extremely grateful for my experience working with Brick by Brick, and I will continue to make the most of the rest of my time in Uganda. I will be defending my research in Tampa over the upcoming ‘17/’18 academic year to complete my degree. In addition, I am currently seeking a job that fulfills my purpose to use my skills and to work on projects in this field to improve the quality of human life. Lastly, my time in Uganda has helped me understand and appreciate my personal values. After my departure, I plan on living a life that focuses on my values that include but are not limited to my professional service, health, educational growth, leisure, and last but certainly not least my family, friends, and my dog, Simba. I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve our Ugandan communities these past two years.