Engineers Without Borders Experience Leads to Pursuit of an MS in Engineering and Public Policy

Melanie Marino, MS in Engineering and Public Policy, and PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering, was drawn to advance her education in public policy after a trip with Engineers Without Borders to Tanzania, which required working with the local government to help a village with an unreliable supply of electricity.   

Before joining the MS in Engineering and Public Policy Program at Northeastern in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) last September, Melanie Marino traveled with a team as part of Engineers Without Borders in Tanzania in 2022.  

The team’s goal was to fix a water supply pump in a small village, but the students soon realized that the pump was not working because the village’s electricity supply was not reliable.  

 “The pipes weren’t getting fixed, and other villages further up the pipeline were getting disproportionate amounts of water,” Marino said. 

The Engineers Without Borders team discovered that they were unable to properly address the village’s problem without addressing the issue on a government level.  

Marino’s experience in Tanzania underlined for her how engineering problems must often be tackled in tandem with public policy leadership. 

“My experience in Tanzania really highlighted the need to learn about policy and combine that knowledge with my technical skills,” she said. “I think sometimes it takes being out of your depth to realize you want to become more well equipped in a specific area.” 

After earning her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Walla Walla University in Spring 2023, Marino said she was “really craving learning about policy and ways to actually make the necessary changes.” 

“I was looking for a program that really blended engineering and policy, and I found one at Northeastern,” she said. “I’m really drawn to the idea of using my practical skills to make tangible change.” 

Now in her first year in the MS in Engineering and Public Policy program, Marino is researching with Associate Professor Matthew J. Eckelman, the director of the program, how to make the healthcare industry, which is responsible for nearly 5 percent of global emissions, more sustainable.  

“Many of our engineering students come into the field because they want to help people, and they have the technical background, but the root of a lot of engineering problems lies in policy,” said Eckelman. “What appears to be technical problems on the surface often turn out to be infrastructural oversights or municipal-level inequity.” 

Marino and Eckelman are working with The Commonwealth Fund, an organization that is focused on promoting high-performing and equitable healthcare systems, to score healthcare institutions on their “planetary health,” or sustainability.  

“The work that we’re doing is coming up with metrics to measure the sustainability of state healthcare systems,” said Marino. “Having that information out there will continue to put pressure on healthcare systems to adopt more sustainable practices,” she said.  

The MS in Engineering and Public Policy Program offers its students a wide latitude in choosing specialty areas and co-op opportunities.   

“I really enjoy the ‘pave your own path’ (style of the program),” said Marino. “The choice has been nice because I can pick classes that align specifically with the research I’ve been doing.” 

Marino noted the variety of classes available to her. She highlighted the class Environment, Health and Society, taught by Professor Phil Brown, as one of her favorite courses she has taken in the program.

“Brown’s class was super applicable to my interest areas. It covered environmental justice—the history and the movement,” she said. “We looked at large corporations and how they’re involved with environmental contamination.” 

“This program has so far been taking me where I want to go,” Marino said, adding that she had taken a limited number of policy classes before starting the program, but she is now “learning a lot” in the policy sector. 

 The policy side of the degree is “definitely challenging and new,” Marino said, “but I think it’s important because policy is so applicable to almost every subject. On the civil side, we worked in a very ‘this is the way you do things’ fashion, but now I’m getting to see that someone makes those decisions—it’s like I’m going up a level.” 

Related Faculty: Matthew J. Eckelman

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering