A Global Scholar

Recent engineering alumna Jessica Sales won a Rotary Global Grant to fund her graduate studies in water and waste engineering at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Jessica Sales

One of three southwestern Pennsylvania recipients of a Rotary International global grant for graduate study abroad, Jessica Sales had hoped she would be in Sydney by now.

As things stand, she is starting her two-year master’s degree program in water, wastewater, and waste engineering at the University of New South Wales via online classes, until coronavirus travel restrictions ease enough for her to go to Australia. 

“I’m most excited to be on campus and meet other students,” Jessica says. “That’s something I’ve really been missing.”

Like college seniors everywhere last spring, Jessica was forced to finish her studies online, earning a bachelor’s in industrial engineering. A new challenge now will be the 16-hour time difference — her Monday class, Fundamentals of Water Engineering, runs 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday night, Pittsburgh time.

Luckily, Jessica is more prepared than most for online study. The Monroeville native earned her high school diploma from PA Cyber Charter School, which gave her the flexibility to study while traveling with her family as her father presented Department of Environmental Protection sustainability grants to businesses across the state.

In 2019 she spent the summer in Costa Rica through the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership. It was her first time abroad, and she worked on several water and waste management projects. One was surveying residents of a small town near an ecotourism resort to hear what waste management services they needed — all in Spanish.  Jessica also saw mountains and waterfalls, toucans and monkeys, and how different communities with different economic realities handle questions of sustainability.

Her graduate studies will prepare her for her chosen career ensuring clean water supplies, especially for underserved populations.

Awarding Jessica the two-year, $126,000 Rotary scholarship “was a no-brainer,” says Jeffrey Klink, chairman of the foundation’s scholarship committee. “I liked the fact that she saw herself helping and trying to make a difference in water engineering. After 15 years of interviewing, you can tell the ones who are serious.”

For now, Jessica is focusing on her online studies, hoping it won’t be long before she has permission to fly across the ocean and start taking classes in person. “I’d like to see the Great Barrier Reef,” she says. “And it’ll be great to meet people in my discipline who share what I’m interested in.”