Last month, Mary Kay was named a Distinguished Graduate of the Zachary Department of Civil Engineering at her alma mater, Texas A&M University.
Her citation read:
Mary Kay says her civil engineering father, Daniel D. Clinton, Jr. P.E. '52 inspired her to become a civil engineer when he guided her through a 6th grade report on using math in civil engineering. Numerous trips to Aggie football games -- and the family picnics with Tinsley's fried chicken -- sparked her love of A&M traditions and pageantry. When her father said she could go wherever she wanted for college but he only would pay for A&M, she didn't want to call his bluff.
Mary Kay's days at A&M were filled with activities ranging from President of Chi Epsilon, Dean's Student Advisory Council, ASCE, Concrete Canoe Team, to founding member fo the MSC Legislative Forum Group. Her fondest memory is the "Camraderie" of classmates during late night study sessions, slaving in the basement computer lab trying to get a program to run, and building the "Rock" and "Rock-elle" concrete canoes. She says nothing could top "the days when the CEs would take over and open and close the Dixie Chicken and have our big domino tournament. That was what really defined us as CE majors!" She credits Dr. Gene Marquis as a great advisor, friend and mentor. He required hard work and had high expectations "but was always willing to take time to explain a difficult concept to us -- as many times as it took for us to get it."
When she was 35 years old, Mary Kay was named the Design Manager for the F. Wayne Hill Water Reclamation Facility in Atlanta, the first (1997) wastewater treatment plant designed to meet drinking water standards. The facility discharges to the lake that supplies water to much of metropolitan Atlanta. After overcoming many hurdles, the award-winning $200 million project was completed on time and on budget.
As stated in Mary Kay's nomination, "she is doing something that most of us have never done ... using her civil engineering skills to provide people in poverty with safe drinking water and improved living conditions." Mary Kay's biggest career step was leaving the corporate world to use her civil engineering skills in Ghana, West Africa to establish the Methodist Development and Relief Services' water program that has supplied clean, abundant water for rural families. Also under her leadership, a new Pure Home Water charitable organization fabrication facility has been constructed to distribute appropriate technology water filters throughout Ghana.
The Clintons are an Aggie family. Her grandfater helped establish the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Her father, uncle, sister, brother and now her nephew all wear maroon. Her husband, Dr. Charles W. Jackson, IV, P.E. BSME/MIT, MS, PhD ME/Stanford University is a math professor at Ashesi University in Ghana. Son Chip Jackson is a PhD Aerospace Engineering student at Virginia Tech, and son Ken Jackson has completed his freshman year in Computer Science at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
We were thrilled that Mary Kay's parents, uncle Kenneth and sister Laura, as well as our son Ken, were able to join with us in the celebration.
Dr Autenrieth, Faculty Members, Students and fellow Aggie CE graduates and supporters, it is a great honor and privilege to be recognized this evening as a Distinguished Graduate of the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering. It is hard to believe that thirty-four years ago, I sat in the atrium of Zachry with several thousand other fish engineers as the Dean of Engineering told us to look at those seated on either side of us -- only one of the three of us would graduate in engineering. It was hard work, with lots of late nights studying, waiting for printouts to see if our computer programs ran, and of course, the nights at the Chicken playing dominoes. But for those of us who graduated four (or five or six) years later, the hard work was worth it. Our time at A&M -- both academic and extracurricular -- shaped who we are today.
I have always wanted to be a civil engineer. My twenty-three year career as a municipal consultant was fulfilling -- all I ever dreamed. I had the opportunity to work with great clients to help solve the challenges posed by the rapid growth in the southeast US in the 80s and 90s. I managed the design of wastewater facilities ranging from 1 MGD to over 200 MGD, and worked on leading edge projects incorporating the use of ozone and membranes into wastewater treatment -- now common practice, but innovative at the time. I loved my work.
But all of this was just the prologue.
According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report for 2013, about 768 million people, a little over 10% of the world's population, does not have access to adequate supplies of safe drinking water. We have made great strides -- in 2006, there were 1.1 billion people without access to safe water. But there is still a long way to go. And we are not talking about access to 80 gallons per person per day -- the amount we use on average here in the USA. We are talking about the basic human right to a mere 5 gallons per day -- within a 30-minute walk of your home.
At the same time, 2.5 billion people, over one-third of the world's population, do not have the dignity of access to an improved sanitation facility. And over 1 billion of these people practice open defecation - going out into the forest or behind bushes to do their business. All of this results in death, disease and a reduced standard of living for everyone, not just the poorest of the poor. In 2009, the WHO reported that water related disease was the leading cause of death in the world, killing 3.4 million people every year. In Ghana alone, 30,000 children die of preventable diarrheal disease each year. The vast majority of these deaths are children under 5 -- the future of the world.
In 2002, I had the privilege of visiting Ghana for the first time. While our family was there for two weeks on a short mission trip, we fell in love with her tropical climate, warm and friendly people, and rich cultural heritage. But at the same time, we saw villages without water and children drinking from rivers or ponds. At that time, my two boys started asking why children had to live that way and whether or not I could do something about it.
At the same time, I clearly felt the call of God on my life -- to love the least in this world as He loves them. God clearly showed me that while no one is dying of waterborne disease in the US, His children around the world ARE dying. God had given me the talents and A&M had given me the education to be able to make a difference, so what would I do to meet that challenge?
In 2006, I quit my consulting job with Metcalf and Eddy to pursue a new dream. Our family moved to Ghana, where I work with the Methodist Church of Ghana to bring water and sanitation to remote rural villages.
The most fulfilling part of my career is now. It is not the most technologically advanced work - pit latrines and clay or stone pot filters have been in use for thousands of years. But it is the most significant work I will ever do. Whenever I go to a village and distribute ceramic pot filters, or drill a borehole, all the small children gather around. I love to spend time interacting with them -- teaching them a song or just chasing them around the village. But the best part is knowing that these children will now have a much greater chance of growing up to live full and productive lives, all because I have given them a cup of water in Jesus' name.
Living as a missionary in Africa is not everyone's calling. Certainly, if you had told me at graduation that thirty years later I would be telling you these stories, I would have thought you had rocks in your head. But we are all called to care, and we are all called to make a difference in this world. I challenge each of you to find something you are passionate about that makes the world a better place. Dream big -- change the world. You may not be able to change everything, but you will make a difference. And life is much better when you are living your dream and are passionate about what you are doing.
And to God by the glory for all the things I have been able to accomplish.
Thank you.I'm proud of you, Mary Kay!