News: Member Portrait

David Heiser: Global Impact

Wednesday, April 18, 2018  
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Originally published in the Spring 2018 NC Currents


David Heiser is at home anywhere in the world where he can help people gain better access to clean water and wastewater disposal. A senior environmental engineer with CDM Smith, he has traveled the globe, contributing his expertise to projects far and wide. Just a few years ago, when CDM Smith was hired to evaluate twin 104" diameter, 22km long GRP pipelines for drinking water from the Nile River to New Cairo, Heiser was onsite in Egypt three times during a six-month period. While he was there, he became involved with a groundwater-lowering project to save a pharaonic temple further up the Nile.


 “My professional career has taken me to some interesting places,” he notes in what could possibly be the biggest understatement ever published in this magazine. During 44 years as a civil and environmental engineer he has participated in designing, evaluating, and constructing waterworks plants, pumping stations and large diameter pipelines in such far flung places as Hong Kong, Egypt, and Guam, as well as locations throughout the US.


 In his volunteer work he has travelled to Nicaragua with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the Methodist Church. Working with the World Vision office in Africa and the Rotary Clubs of Pennsylvania, Heiser helped line up the funding to drill three water wells on the outskirts of Lubumbashi, DRC, a city of three million, with underserviced slums of 20,000 to 40,000 people. “We were able to assist them in getting water,” he confirms, adding that this was the first step in a number of success stories for the community, from the building of wells to schools and hospitals.


 Clean water, he points out, is fundamental to good health care. Several of his mission trips have been with Curamericas Global, an organization based in Raleigh, NC, that is devoted to providing mothers and children around the world with vital health services. “There are so many women in these countries who are dying in childbirth for no reason,” says Heiser. “We clean up the water system so people can stay healthy. Usually, when I go on a mission I like it to be water or wastewater related. I get a sense of satisfaction that, when I leave, I’ve helped the community.” His most recent mission with Curamericas was in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala. He hopes to continue working on this organization’s projects around the world, and is currently on their Board of Advisors as the water consultant.


 Heiser comes by his global ways honestly. His father was a dam engineer who transplanted the family from Denver, Colorado to India when David was only five. Heiser grew up in New Delhi, India; Lahore, Pakistan; and Tehran, Iran, attending boarding school in Montreaux, Switzerland, where he learned both French and German.


 He returned to the US in 1964, graduating from high school two years later. He then spent six years in the US Air Force, during the Vietnam War era. After his discharge, he completed a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Pennsylvania State University, with a major in pure hydraulics. His first job out of college involved designing a 400 MGD stormwater treatment plant in Rochester, NY, for which hydraulic calculations were needed to size all the facilities. “That’s what thrust me into this field,” notes Heiser. “I easily morphed from there into doing the hydraulics for both water and wastewater treatment plants and have now been designing and constructing plants for 43 years.”


 Along the way, he became a member of numerous professional associations, in many of which he now holds a life membership. “Even in college, you are encouraged to join professional associations and activities,” he points out. Heiser recalls becoming a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1973 in order to participate in the concrete canoe competition while at Penn State.


 Some of the organizations with which he has been the most involved since then include the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, EWB, the NC Water Operators Association, Professional Engineers of North Carolina (PENC), the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and his primary organization the NC AWWA-WEA. In 2003, Heiser was named PENC Engineer-of-the-Year for North Carolina.


 For several years, he has volunteered as a judge in the NSPE-sponsored MathCounts, a local, state and national competition for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. “Many of the volunteers are also members of the NC AWWA-WEA,” notes Heiser, adding that he is very proud to be a member as well. “The amount of training the Association does each year is mindboggling.”


 Since 1991, he himself has taught twice a year at the water and wastewater treatment plant operator certification schools. Over the years, he also served three terms as the Influent Integrator for the 5S Society and chaired several NC AWWA-WEA committees. One that stands out is the now defunct Outreach Committee, in which members worked on water and wastewater systems for low-income communities in North Carolina. “We mostly did engineering reports for these communities, at no cost,” recalls Heiser. “You can’t apply for grant money until a Preliminary Engineering Report has been completed.”


 Another committee near and dear to his heart is Water For People – although he has not participated in any international Water for People projects because his overseas involvement with EWB, Curamericas and the United Methodist Church has consumed most of his free time. To date, he has always had to squeeze the one-to-two-week mission trips in between his professional obligations and family vacations.


 Heiser’s work with CDM Smith has kept him very busy with the design, construction management, and evaluation of WTPs, WWTPs, large diameter pipelines, pumping stations, earthen dams, landfill leachate management facilities, elevated water storage tanks, reclaimed water systems, and sludge treatment and disposal systems. Over the past eight years, his work has mainly revolved around construction at the wastewater treatment plants in Greensboro, NC.


 After he retires at the end of 2018, Heiser is looking forward to participating in many more mission trips to various countries around the world, predominantly with Curamericas Global, the United Methodist Church, Water For People and other non-governmental organizations. As part of this volunteer work, he is hoping to continue working on the missions in Guatemala, Bolivia and the DRC.


 He also plans to continue pursuing some of his passions such as stained glass and singing. “I have sung all my adult life in university choirs, semi-professional groups, and church choirs,” explains Heiser, adding that he has been a member of the Campbell University Choral Society since 1991.


 It is yet another aspect of his vast capacity for embracing life and all it has to offer, whether it be at home or abroad. In that sense, the apple did not fall far from the tree. “I learned a lot from my parents,” agrees Heiser. “I praise them every other day for raising me the way they did.” Around the world, those who continue to benefit from all his good works should be praising them too.

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