The same engineering skills that Boeing’s Shah Selbe uses to help satellites
maneuver in space are ensuring delivery of clean water to a health clinic in
Selbe, working out of El Segundo, Calif., serves as co-lead for a volunteer
project in the African nation of Malawi to develop solutions to water issues that touch
the lives of people halfway across the globe. The success of the effort, coordinated
through Engineers Without Borders–USA, led Boeing to honor the propulsion systems
engineer with the 2009 Boeing Exceptional Volunteer Service Award.
In 2008, Selbe joined the global nonprofit’s Malawi Project team to help resolve
crucial water treatment and transport issues for the Malamulo Hospital Campus. The
hospital, located in a rural area of southern Malawi, is home to the country’s leading
HIV/AIDS prevention program, but its water system was inadequate and inconsistent,
and many potential sources of water are contaminated.
The goal of the project is to bring inexpensive clean water to the entire hospital
campus—by identifying water sources, repairing piping and constructing a Rainwater
“As a liquid propulsion subsystem engineer working on how communications satellites
move around once they’re in geosynchronous orbit, I deal with technical issues
regarding liquids and pressure changes,” Selbe said. “So what I did on this project,
including drafting of the technical documentation, is similar to what I do at work.”
The project also required Selbe to develop and employ some unexpected skills—
ranging from training and communication to negotiation to project and resource
management. “I really enjoy what I do at Boeing—making satellites move in space is
pretty cool,” Selbe said. “But this EWB project was rewarding in a whole different way.
We’re working to make sure that the Malamulo hospital can continue its work for
people living with HIV/AIDS, and also to deliver a reliable source of clean drinking...