Libby Mahaffy: Why did you join WSSS? Armando Milou: My focus was always water and stormwater. I had done development work in Third World countries before coming to UEP, so I knew what I wanted to do and started right away with watershed management and everything related to water. I later mixed it up with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) which added other dimensions.
WSSS just gave me a narrower focus. When I went to Tufts I was already older, so I already had some experience and knew what I wanted to do, but I needed to do more field work and get the credentials. It was a practical learning experience – especially going and doing the fieldwork – and I took a lot from both UEP and WSSS.
LM: What was your favorite part of the WSSS program? AM: The Practicum was great. We didn’t get to go to the Bahamas like the class after us, but we got to analyze something that was perfect for me: Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) in the Alewife creek, right behind Tufts. We had to engage all four communities – Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge and Somerville -- to find out how to reduce the amount of stormwater flow in peak events. [The project] gave me an idea of not only the national and state regulations, but of stormwater problems encountered at the municipal level. The paper we wrote for the Practicum even helped me to get a job afterwards!
What I really liked about WSSS was that it brought together people from different disciplines. When you’re in UEP, you’re with the people in UEP, and when you’re in engineering, you’re with the people in engineering. Same with nutrition or medicine or history or Fletcher. I got to know a lot of other graduate students from all over Tufts who I wouldn’t have otherwise; I’m still in touch with all of them. My experience at Tufts would have been very different had I not gotten the WSSS certificate.
LM: What was the most difficult or challenging part of WSSS? AM: Hydrology, definitely! (laughs) That was really, really hard. My twin boys were born right in the middle of the semester, so it was insane. Professor Vogel was really nice to me – he also has twins. It was my third semester and on my fourth semester I went to Central America to collect all my data [for my thesis]. So it was hard but it was great – Rich is a great professor and you can tell he really cares about your learning. He wrote a chapter in the Handbook of Hydrology, which is like the bible of hydrologists. But I wanted to take it; I wanted more technical stuff because I found that in UEP there’s not a lot of technical, hard-core science included in the core curriculum. That’s why I loved GIS and remote sensing. It’s very valuable when you go to a workplace – you may not use it, but you could help other people use it or use it to analyze and understand what they’ve done.
LM: Was there anything surprising or unexpected about the WSSS program? AM: I got some money to do my research! (laughs) I didn’t expect that! I’ll be honest – it was everything I expected and I had really high expectations. I met so many people – and the quality of the people that I met was really, really good – and they’ve become my friends. Even now that I’m in Asia we still keep in touch. I didn’t really expect that everything I would be doing would be water, but as it turns out, everything I’m doing is water. I wanted to mix it up with GIS or community involvement, but so far it’s been water every time I get a job.
LM: How have you used what you learned in WSSS in your career? AM: When I graduated, I got an internship with UNESCO in the International Hydrological Programme in Paris editing new UNESCO books having to do with water. I used everything I already knew about water, and water and sanitation [from WSSS] to edit these books, which made it much easier. Plus I’d just spent two years reading about this stuff, so I had a lot of practice. I got offered a consultancy to continue my work, but logistically it didn’t work out.
Then I got offered a job at EPA, which used everything I had taken in environmental law and Scott Horsley’s watershed management class. I was working for the TMDL (total maximum daily load) program. By the time I got there I didn’t have to re-learn anything – I just started working. That helped me out a lot.
Our plan was always to move to Southeast Asia or Africa. We moved to Indonesia last February and I was able to continue to work for EPA until March, but the 12-hour difference was truly hard. I then decided to look for local consultancies. Working for the EPA, especially in the water part where I was, was excellent. But I’m glad that we moved Indonesia because it forces me to go into the development realm. That’s what I really wanted to be in, and there’s a lot of work to be done in water and sanitation in Jakarta – the urban planning here is in really bad shape!
LM: If WSSS was a Jelly Belly, what flavor would it be? AM: Let me think... it’s got to be one that I really like because I really liked WSSS, but there are so many! Strawberry, because I love strawberry. Jelly Bellies are awesome – I don’t buy them because I eat them all! As for WSSS, I truly enjoyed it. It was a great experience and it complemented UEP really well.