Civil engineering PhD student helps develop healthier places to live
by Amy Vaerewyck | University Communications
- Travel to India on a Fulbright-Nehru Scholarship.
- Help make cities in India and Asia healthier places to live.
- Use his Fulbright research to complete his PhD.
- Get married.
He can already check the first item off the list, as he’s been in the territory of Delhi, India, since September working on his research project, “Health Outcomes as a Motivator for Low-Carbon Cities: Implications for Infrastructure.”
“India is an incredible country, and it’s a very exciting time to be here,” Sperling said. “The people I’ve met so far and am working with have been very warm and welcoming.”
A Fulbright Scholar and Then Some
Sperling is a student in the Sustainable Urban Infrastructure program, working through an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant from the National Science Foundation. He said the IGERT fellowship is what drew him to CU Denver.
And now, in addition to being an IGERT fellow, he’s a Fulbright Scholar.
“I was very excited and grateful to be selected to participate in such a prestigious international educational exchange program,” he said. He gives much credit to his adviser, Anu Ramaswami, PhD, professor of civil engineering, as well as his dissertation committee members and Fulbright host mentors in India.
“The people I’ve met through the Fulbright community are all really great, with many individuals working on very interesting, exciting and meaningful research and projects.”
Healthier Environments for Millions
Sperling is working on a pretty interesting and meaningful project himself. Ultimately, he’s helping to provide cleaner air, cleaner water and healthier environments for millions of people.
He’s exploring how upgraded infrastructures and related environmental factors shape urban health outcomes in rapidly growing Asian cities. His research links engineering and epidemiological data collection, analysis and field-based methods for a deeper understanding of infrastructure-related health risks. He’s developing a more robust evidence base, which can be used by local decision-makers to promote low-carbon development and improve health in cities.
Here are some facts that Sperling said are driving his research in Delhi, as a representative rapidly growing Asian city:
- The National Capital Territory of Delhi, India, which hosts a population of over 18 million, is projected to reach 24 million by 2021 and 28 million by 2026.
- Delhi average pollutant concentrations can be up to four times higher than national outdoor air quality standards for residential areas, and up to 18 times higher than drinking water quality standards.
- In Delhi, 16 percent of households lack access to drinking water taps, and 6 percent lack access to latrines.
As he examines different urban environments in Delhi and surrounding areas, Sperling snaps photos in some of the more underserved neighborhoods. He observes heavily polluted-blackened waterways that run right through these densely populated neighborhoods. Nearby are high levels of air pollution, unpaved roads, open sewage channels, street dogs, piles of garbage—and, playing in the middle of it all, children.
Touring the World for Good
This isn’t the first time Sperling has devoted his time to a global health issue. He’s volunteered and worked with Engineers Without Borders-International in various capacities for eight years, as well as for the Arup Poverty Action Network and for the development organization, BRAC.
“I’ve studied, worked, traveled, conducted field research and volunteered in various countries abroad, primarily in Latin America and South Asia,” he said. “I’ve made extended visits to countries such as Chile, Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Australia. This is my third trip to India since 2009.”
While he’s drawn to world travel, he admitted that he does miss his family, friends and colleagues back home—not to mention his fiancé. Their wedding is planned for May 2013, so he’ll return to Denver in a few months—but his commitment to the cause won’t stop.
“My career interests and passion include serving as a lifelong U.S. ‘ambassador’ in the fields of humanitarian engineering, global health and strategic planning,” he wrote in his Fulbright Scholarship application. “[When I return to the U.S.,] I plan to continue to work both locally and globally, and commit to public service in a way that supports the right of all people to a decent and healthy quality of life.”