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Daniel Buonadonna, ND '03: ENVIRONMENT

AUTHOR: Allison Preston

PUBLISHED: October 2, 2017

Daniel Buonadonna graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2003. He then served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania focusing on agroforestry and microfinance projects. From there he participated in humanitarian projects for the U.S. Embassy by constructing rural wells and school houses.

Buonadonna received a Fulbright grant to study natural treatment systems in India and completed a Masters degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He now serves as the Regional Technology Lead with CH2M HILL in the Pacific Northwest.


Q: What classes did you most enjoy at Notre Dame?

Buonadonna: In my program, the coursework during my senior year is when I started to see the most powerful direct application to the type of civil engineering career I wanted to have. It's hard to pick a favorite, but in general, I most enjoyed the classes with a hands-on learning component (field visits, modeling labs, etc.).

Outside of the program, I still have a great appreciation for my time in Richard P. McBrian's "Catholicism" class and, of course, PE.

Q: Were you part of any clubs at Notre Dame?

Buonadonna: I was involved in student government as the Community Service co-chair, a team leader for the Center for Social Concerns Appalachian Spring volunteers, the Study Abroad Australia program, and a fighter in the Bengal Bouts.

Q: What inspired you to join the Peace Corps after graduating?

Buonadonna: Service is an important value for my family. I made a personal commitment to pursue a service-oriented career when I first arrived at Notre Dame, and halfway through my junior year it became apparent that my skillset and motivations aligned with international development engineering work. It was after a Notre Dame service trip to rebuild drinking water wells in Haiti that I prepared and submitted my application to the Peace Corps.


Q: What project/s are you most proud of during your time with the Peace Corps?

Buonadonna: Two-thirds of the goals of the Peace Corps revolve around cultural exchange between volunteers and host country nationals. After 9/11, it was especially important to keep this in perspective during my time in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. I would not say that I am "proud" of my time there, as much as I am humbled by the experience of seeing how similar our cultures, values, and beliefs are - when we take the time to learn. Ancillary to this, I worked on water treatment, sustainable energy, and microfinance projects.

Q: After serving in the Peace Corps you served as a private contractor for African countries. How did you land that role? 

Buonadonna: I think professional networking should always be in the back of one's mind as they develop their career. In my case, I had made connections within the local contracting community during my time as a volunteer. From there I demonstrated that I could speak the local languages, bridge professional culture expectations between local contractors and aid organizations, and perform as a qualified engineer. When it came down to actually signing contracts, it was not unlike most procurement procedures for professional services: I submitted a proposal with qualifications, the customer made an evaluation and selection, and we negotiated terms and compensation.


Q: How did you decide your next career move after the Peace Corps and your time in Africa?

Buonadonna: I always like to have a plan and I had laid a roadmap for my next steps before the end of my service in Africa. The worldwide need for clean, reliable water/sewer systems was very apparent to me so I pursued a Fulbright Grant to study natural treatment systems in India. I also applied to UC Berkeley to pursue an advanced degree in water engineering with the ultimate goal of returning to work overseas. That being said, I tried not to get too myopic in chasing international projects to the point that I'd miss challenges/adventures from other sources.

Q:  What do you enjoy most about your current work?

Buonadonna: While in graduate school I met my wife and started a family soon after. I joined CH2M in 2008 as a water engineer in their Lawrence, KS office. What attracted me to the firm, and what still holds true today, is the company's culture, ethics, and commitment to technical excellence. There was also future potential for international development projects in a large, full-service, heavy civil engineering firm like CH2M.

For a while, my international work was redirected through volunteer organizations, such as Engineers Without Borders, while I grew my career as a professional consultant. At the firm now, I currently serve as the Global Practice Lead for CH2M's pipeline Condition Assessment and Rehabilitation Services team (CARS) which works to restore aging infrastructure worldwide. What I enjoy most about this position is the chance to help our cities find real solutions to problems they face from deteriorating water and sewer utilities. Reliable, clean water remains a worldwide need and developed nations are no exception. I'm honored to serve this industry both at home and abroad.

Q: How do you use your past philanthropic experiences in your current roles?

Buonadonna: Our communities face challenges that require social solutions as much as they do technical solutions. I believe this is true in Haiti, Africa, and India as well as Washington, Texas, and New York. My prior experience has taught me the importance of listening more than speaking, considering all the potential stakeholders in a project, and being flexible (and innovative!) in the face of change. I use these lessons whether I'm rehabilitating a large sewer in the USA, or installing a new water pipeline in Africa.

Q: What advice do you have for undergraduate and graduate students in the CEEES Department?

Buonadonna: If you're interested in a career in international development work, hold your compass steady, be patient when things get hard or you have to take a detour, and be open to new opportunities (and blessings) that God may put in your path. International development work is why I became an engineer, and after graduate school I was ready to go right back into the world of refugee camps and crowded slums.

Along the way I met my wife, and now have 3 beautiful children who define me more than any piece of water pipe I have put in the ground. I needed to take a break from international work for a while to focus on being a father and develop a professional consulting career. But by maintaining my network, keeping an eye on the horizon, and not being afraid to take the initiative, opportunities arose to return to development work through my consulting position. By virtue of having my family, I'm a stronger, more compassionate and much more patient engineer.

Dan 3

Q: Any specific career advice for graduating students?

Buonadonna: More important than what you do, is how you do it. Pursue your career with integrity, humility, and passion. Don't be afraid to let this energy shine through in an interview or conference. Leverage this, as much as you do your qualifications when you're looking to advance. There are many causes worth fighting for, and by finding what personally motivates you, you can make a lasting impact. The world needs you.

Q: Is there a motto or philosophy you live by that impacts your career goals?

Buonadonna: My professional discernment process has been an attempt to balance three expectations: what we can do, what we ought to do, and what we want to do. I believe that fulfillment comes from finding a career path that keeps these three in equilibrium.

Categories:  Alumni

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