Engineering alum finds creative ways to give back

The way alumna Ingrid Davis-Colato sees it, Mason Engineering’s faculty helped her build a rewarding career as a water resource engineer. She’s determined to do the same for others.

“I want to pay back a little of what Mason gave me,” says Davis-Colato, BS Civil and Infrastructure Engineering ’16, MS Civil and Infrastructure Engineering ’19.

Her career journey began when she moved to the United States from El Salvador at age 19, learned to speak English, and earned associate degrees in engineering and business administration from Northern Virginia Community College.

She came to Mason unsure of the next steps on her path. “My father has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, but he told me his dream was to become an engineer because engineers are experts at problem-solving,” she says.

That motivated her to explore engineering opportunities. When she took several water resource classes in the Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering (CEIE), she found her passion.

“The engineering program is amazing,” she says. “They have exactly the right mix of full-time professors and adjunct professors who tell you what it’s like in the real world.”

Davis-Colato says five faculty members “helped me become the engineer that I am, and I will always be grateful to them”—Laura Kosoglu, Viviana Maggioni, Celso Ferreira, David Binning, and Matthew Doyle.

During her senior year, she decided to pursue an accelerated master’s degree with a concentration in environmental and water resource engineering, which trains students in water and wastewater treatment, groundwater fate and transport of contaminants, flood mitigation, and water supply and distribution.

Davis-Colato, who has two daughters, ages 4 and 2, and a stepson, age 16, says she couldn’t have accomplished all this without the help of her husband, Todd Davis.

She also received support and encouragement from her bosses at Michael Baker International, where she works with construction companies, municipalities, and government agencies to avoid flooding when they build roads, parking lots, or buildings. “I make sure the water that is leaving the developing site is clean so it won’t pollute streams, rivers, or bays,” she says.

“I am one of the fortunate people who wake up and want to go to work every day. I feel I am making a difference in my work.”

To give back to Mason, she returns every semester to do guest lectures for civil engineering classes. She also serves as a technical advisor for Mason’s Engineers for International Development (EFID).

In January of 2020, she accompanied the group to Ecuador, where they built a new clean water system for a small, poverty-stricken community. “The students designed the whole system. I was able to be in the trenches with these students, laying pipes with them, translating between the students and the people in the community,” she says. “We provided water for a dozen houses that have never had potable water in their lives.”

Mason Engineering’s faculty members appreciate Davis-Colato’s dedication. Laura Kosoglu, CEIE associate chair and director of the department’s graduate program, says, “I first taught Ingrid when she was starting to take undergraduate civil engineering classes. She was always warm and welcoming to talk with, and it was clear she was dedicated to making the most of her education.

“Now, that Ingrid has graduated from our program with two degrees, she continues to give back generously with her time and experience to benefit our students and global communities through EFID,” Kosoglu says.  “Our program continues to strengthen thanks to alumni like Ingrid.”

One day, Davis-Colato would like to earn a doctorate from Mason and return as an adjunct professor.  “I like teaching, but I don’t see myself leaving industry to become a full-time professor. I want to help students in the same ways that my professors helped me”

That said, the faculty members at CEIE are “like a true family, beyond what I ever expected,” she says.

by Nanci Hellmich, June 3, 2020