This International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we interviewed six women in science from the United States Agency for International Development to discover their journeys in this field. Meet Elizabeth Jordan and learn more about her experience and advice for the next generation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?
I am a Water and Sanitation Advisor in the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Food Security. I help improve USAID’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs and oversee the Agency’s WASH research activities.
How did you get into STEM and into working with WASH programs specifically?
A: I always liked science growing up, so I studied aerospace engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After college I decided to join Engineers Without Borders, where I was able to work on a water project. I loved the work, and it was so clear that there was a real need [for engineers] in the development field, so I decided I didn’t want to just be a volunteer — I wanted to do a deep dive into water and sanitation and better understand the issues of those fields. I then went back to school at the University of Colorado Boulder and got my doctoral degree in civil engineering with a focus in development, particularly in disaster recovery, including shelters and settlements, and utilities like water and roads.
What does a typical day look like for you in the office?
A: I’m a Water Advisor, so a lot of my work is advising and supporting USAID Missions in the field on water programs. That can be anything from designing new projects, scoping evaluations, and doing site monitoring. It also allows me to travel sometimes, which is exciting (I’m currently in Kenya!). I also help the Agency with research in WASH and technical guidance, and I manage research projects that examine why certain interventions succeed, why some fail, and how we can make successful interventions sustainable.
Where do you see the WASH field headed in the next 5–10 years?
A: We will definitely be a step closer to achieve universal access to clean drinking water and sanitation services and do so globally by continuing to engage different stakeholders.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges ahead for your field?
A: One big challenge that we face in WASH is trying to reach everybody — there’s a lot of inequity when you look at who has access to clean water and sanitation and who doesn’t. So making sure that we’re able to reach the poorest, most rural, most in-need areas is incredibly important. We’re aiming to provide higher quality services to everyone, not just basic services to those who have easy access.
Can you speak to some of your favorite projects you worked on to assist those hard-to-reach communities?
A: I have been supporting USAID’s Water and Sanitation project in Haiti, which has been really inspiring. Haiti is a challenging context to work in because they’ve historically struggled with access to WASH services. We are able to work with the utilities from the ground up and build a foundation for sustainable WASH services. The project is ultimately about both infrastructure and capacity building — we are building infrastructure, like water systems, but we also work to equip local organizations and institutions with the skills to keep things working and sustainable in the future.
Do you have any notable women mentors that helped you along the way?
A: Definitely! My doctoral research advisor was really instrumental in helping me to understand my goals and find ways to achieve them, including supporting me to gain field experience during my doctorate.
What advice do you have for young girls who want to pursue STEM?
A: Career options in the STEM field are really broad — look at me, I started in aerospace engineering and now I’m in an entirely different field! But the skills you’ll learn in STEM are universally useful and transferable, so don’t feel like you have to lock yourself into one narrow path.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the interviewees and do not reflect the official policy or position of the initiative.