Tahoma alum Geoffrey Morgan uses engineering skills for worldly cause
It’s been just 12 years since Geoffrey Morgan graduated from Tahoma High School. In that time, Morgan has earned multiple degrees and contributed to aid projects that have helped thousands of people. His path after graduation led him to the other side of the globe, where he currently works for the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in Copenhagen as an Infrastructure Sustainability and Resilience Specialist.
Several key experiences have helped shape Morgan’s career, including one in which the Tahoma community was incredibly supportive, he says.
On May 12, 2008, Morgan was studying abroad in China and survived the Wenchuan 8.0 earthquake. The earthquake hit 50 miles from where he was studying in Chengdu, while also conducting research on potable water projects in rural villages, he said.
“The quake claimed almost 90,000 lives and displaced over 5.5 million others,” Morgan wrote in an email. “I lived with a host family and had many close, local friends. Had I left, I would have felt as though I abandoned them and could never live that feeling down.” Instead, he and another student stayed to help with relief work.
“Our efforts began by loading buses heading up to the disaster area with water, tents, clothes, and bedding, progressed to visiting children in the hospital, and culminated by founding an organization called China Earthquake Aid (CEA). Through CEA I raised $65,000 and completed three large projects to bring aid to the affected regions.”
The first project that Morgan led there was inspired by a teacher he met in the disaster area and was intended to address psychological damage the quake created for children.
“Schools were some of the hardest-hit buildings, and over 7,000 inadequately engineered classrooms collapsed resulting in thousands of child deaths and even more injured,” he said. “Many of these children had lost classmates and her (the teacher) thought was to have kids from other parts of the world write cards or letters as a sign of support and let them know that other kids were thinking about them and cared about them.”
Morgan reached out to Tahoma teachers, who not only asked their students to write cards, but passed the word along to other educators they knew. His original email was forwarded across the country and around the world. He received more than 6,000 cards and letters from students in more than 10 countries. Those were delivered along with art and school supplies, English dictionaries, and candy, to two high schools and an elementary school in the disaster zone.
Morgan also worked to deliver warm clothing and winter supplies to a small town; and, in a third project, worked with Chinese non-profit Wild Grass to construct more than 300 eco-friendly toilets in the disaster area.
Asked what advice he would give current Tahoma students, he said: “Never miss an opportunity to help someone in need. You never know where that act of kindness may take you!”
During his years at THS, Morgan says he had many great teachers and that narrowing down just a few who were inspirational is difficult. However, two staff members who jump to mind are Lindsey Hatch and Lara Lindersmith. He had Hatch for We the People, and says she taught him how to start conquering his fears of public speaking and pushed him into leadership roles. Lindersmith gave him confidence to voice his opinion. “Both of these teachers helped shape me and gave me the skills that I use every day and helped make me the successful person that I am now,” Morgan said.
Lindersmith, who now works as the THS Future Ready Specialist, was one of the teachers who helped with Morgan’s letter-delivery project. She says his most outstanding qualities while at Tahoma were his friendliness and kindness — which he extended to both fellow students and staff members.
“When Geoff was in my English class, he was skilled at applying what he learned to new situations outside school,” Lindersmith added.
After leaving Tahoma, he studied at the University of Washington as an aerospace engineering major. Morgan said he had always been interested in engineering and comes from a long line of engineers. While in the honors program at UW, Morgan took classes outside the typical engineering curriculum including international relations.
“I still remember the class that I was in when the professor spoke about all the problems with engineering and infrastructure in developing countries and I said to myself ‘I could do a better job than that,'” he recalled. Morgan changed his major and went on to earn a bachelor of arts in International Development and a bachelor of science in Civil and Environmental Engineering; then, he went to Cambridge for a master’s degree in Engineering for Sustainable Development. After Cambridge, he worked as a consultant for Arup’s International Development Team in London before joining UNOPS.
As the Infrastructure Sustainability and Resilience Specialist for UNOPS, his primary responsibility is to work with partner governments in developing countries. The focus is on improving each country’s ability to plan, deliver, and manage sustainable and resilient infrastructure to improve human welfare.
“I do this by meeting with key stakeholders in various government ministries to identify gaps in capacity and then help them to identify solutions to their issues through capacity building projects,” Morgan said. He also attends multiple inter-UN agency meetings as one of the infrastructure representatives and advocates. “To do all this, I tend to travel a lot with my days spent in government offices in places like Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Serbia, to name a few.”
“I think part of the reason I changed (career paths) is that I have always cared about social injustice — I was in the Civil Rights unit of the We The People Team at Tahoma — and saw the potential of infrastructure to improve lives and human dignity so I decided to dedicate my life to this mission.”