‘We didn’t want to just give them a glass of clean water for a day’

| February 22, 2017

Kirsten Rice empowers communities in developing countries to produce their own clean water

Kirsten Rice at the Daily Dose Cafe in LA’s Arts District. Rice is a humanitarian, engineer and artist. Photo/ George Sampson

Kirsten Rice

’14 Masters of Science, Mechanical Engineering

Project: Community Water Project

Mission: installing water purification systems in developing countries

During my last year at USC Viterbi, I co-founded The Community Water Project with the desire to empower communities in developing countries to forge their own access to clean water. I traveled to Rwanda after graduation, working with fellow USC engineers and the local community to build a sustainable, low-tech water treatment system based on our lab research. We wrote a business plan in that year’s Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition, raised $20,000 and secured a grant from National Geographic. Our model: build inexpensive bio-sand filtration systems in conjunction with local communities; charge a nominal but affordable fee to villagers for clean water; and use that money to protect, maintain and expand the system. We didn’t want to just give them a glass of clean water for a day, but for a lifetime. After handing off the treatment system to local leaders, I returned to Los Angeles where I currently work on developing solar power plants in Southern California. In my spare time, I love to practice yoga, hike, eat good food, paint, and pursue photography. I have curated shows and exhibited work in Los Angeles and Houston.

In her own words

Listen to Kirsten describe how the project got started and the impact it had on one community in Rwanda.

My mantra: breathe love into all you do

I do what I do because: access to clean water is a basic human right

Mentor(s): Massoud Pirbazari, Jennifer West

Perfect Day: breakfast in bed followed by a bike ride on the beach with close friends, an afternoon of painting or exploring somewhere new, and signing off the sunset with live music and dancing

Soundtrack to my life: “Wildflower” by Beach House

Greatest failure: losing my phone almost every day of my life

Proudest moment: receiving a grant from National Geographic

If I weren’t an engineer, I’d be: an artist

My alarm: the sun shining through my window

I don’t leave home without my: backpack full of snacks, I’m always hungry…

My inspiration: the connection and love between all living things

My favorite Trojan memory: volunteering in Uganda with Alternative Summer Break

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