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Stanford alum named Federal Engineer of the Year for clean-water work overseas

Richard Gelting says his interdisciplinary training at Stanford has aided his efforts to help some of the 800 million people who lack clean water.
Stanford Alum Rick Gelting, MS CEE ’88, PhD CEE ’95, kneels to take a water sample. | Photo courtesy of Rick Gelting

When Richard Gelting defended his dissertation in 1995, two anthropologists sat in judgment of his work along with his professors from Stanford’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"One of the strengths of Stanford is that you’re not always confined to a specific discipline," said Gelting (MS CEE '88, PhD CEE '95), today a Captain in the U.S. Public Health Service who has worked with Caribbean and South American officials to improve local water supplies.

Gelting was recently named Federal Engineer of the Year by the National Society of Professional Engineers for his success in working alongside national and international officials on projects such as helping Brazil improve drinking water safety, which led to revisions in its national drinking water regulations.

"Having that cross-disciplinary background is part of creating a team approach," Gelting said, adding that successful projects often depend on developing the cultural understanding of local needs that helps win local support.

In addition to his work with the U.S. Public Health Service, Gelting currently works with the World Health Organization to improve drinking water safety and serves on the Water Working Group for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gelting has made water his life's work and a passion.

"We take sanitation and clean water for granted," he said. "But the numbers are staggering: 2 billion people without access to sanitation; 800 million people without access to improved water sources."

Shortly after getting his award, Gelting said such honors were mainly useful because they show "what engineers contribute to society."

A former Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, Gelting earned a bachelor's degree in hydrology from the University of New Hampshire and a master's degree in water resources engineering from Stanford before also getting his PhD here.

He lives outside Atlanta with his wife, Sue. They have one daughter.