Water for the world

Engineering PhD student Jacira Soares in the Water for the World lab

Engineering M.S./Ph.D. student Jacira Soares in the Water for the World lab

Photo credit: Nora Lewis

Jacira Soares grew up in a poor community on the island of Sao Nicolau in Cape Verde. She had to walk a mile or more from her home as often as three times a day to get clean, drinkable water.

Sometimes Soares returned with 5 gallons of water in a jug or bucket that she would balance on her head. Sometimes she returned empty-handed.

Now, a M.S./Ph.D student studying civil and environmental engineering, Soares is working in engineering Professor Joe Goodwill’s Water for the World Laboratory and studying ways to make clean water accessible to communities such as the one where she grew up. “I always wanted to earn a Ph.D. so that I could help others,” said Soares. “I want to travel the world to help underdeveloped communities with their potable water scarcity. I would like to make their lives a bit better than they were before.”

In 2011, Soares arrived in the United States and lived with her family in East Providence, R.I. After high school, she started taking classes at the Community College of Rhode Island, which she attended off and on for several years before transferring to URI in 2018. Her goal: to earn a bachelor’s degree. Initially a mathematics major, Soares was awarded a B.S. in Civil Engineering  in 2021. After graduation she began the M.S/Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering program. Her ultimate goal is definitely a Ph.D. Before that, she’ll receive a Master’s degree in 2023.

‘I wanted to make my mom proud’

“I was the first child on my mother’s side of the family to go to a four-year college,” said Soares. “I wanted to make my mom proud and provide for her one day because she gave up so much to raise my siblings and me. We were very poor. Having food and water was a challenge.”

Soares took classes at URI during the day and worked overnight in the Rhode Island Hospital emergency room. She also served as a statistics teaching assistant for Associate Teaching Professor Soheyb Kouider.

“There were many times I wouldn’t sleep for two straight days because I would work nights and go to school right after,” said Soares. Joseph  Goodwill, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, approached Soares about joining his research group as a graduate student. “When Professor Goodwill explained that the focus of his Water for the World Laboratory is to bring clean water to underprivileged people — a subject I’m passionate about — I felt grateful to have the opportunity to learn under him,” said Soares.

‘A visceral understanding’

“Jacira has directly experienced water stress and has a visceral understanding of its terrible effects,” said Goodwill. “This drives her passion for helping others and makes her a better environmental engineer. Her research is focused on alleviating water stress in rural regions, and her unique perspective makes the potential impact obvious. I never had to lecture Jacira about the motivation for our research because she already understood it better than I did.”

Someone with Soares’ first-hand experience of water issues benefits the entire research group, Goodwill said.

“The Water for the World Laboratory is better with her as a member and we’re lucky to have her,” he added. “Helping people with water stress is the principal mission of our group, and Jacira is critical to our ability to execute that.”

Soares wants to take what she’s learned to help others. “After I earn my Ph.D., I want to work for a water treatment plant to gain hands-on experience,” said Soares. “Then, I want to travel the world to underprivileged places and help people with their potable water scarcity and hopefully make their lives a little bit better than before.

“I want to give back to others.”

— By Neil Nachbar