Ehab Meselhe: Scientist and Engineer Works to Break Down Barriers Between Disciplines and Communities
In 2018, Ehab Meselhe and a team at the Water Institute of the Gulf, a Louisiana nonprofit research group, sat for hours with residents of St. Bernard and other coastal parishes in Louisiana, modeling their potential solutions to coastal land loss.
Engineers and scientists, including Meselhe, have spent years refining a coastal master plan that includes building wetlands and major diversions of the Mississippi River. But Meselhe, an engineer, scientist and hydrologic modeler, knows that cold, hard data doesn’t often translate well to the communities that will be impacted by those mitigation projects. “So we let them try it,” he says, adding that the sessions resulted in some “great” ideas that will be incorporated into the ever-evolving master plan.
The sessions are an embodiment of Meselhe’s core belief that technical disciplines must work together and include local knowledge in their solutions. “Today we are practicing a linear assembly line approach where every group does its work and passes it onto the next,” Meselhe said in a TEDx talk he gave at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge last year, about the importance of cross-discipline collaboration and compromise. If the technical experts and communities don’t work together, “the system we are fighting over will collapse,” he says.
“He connected the dots so effectively,” says Annemarie Galeucia, the TEDxLSU organizer who recruited Meselhe to speak. “It’s not just a Louisiana thing,” she says of his approach to solving the state’s coastal problems. “He’s doing it in globally replicable ways, presenting a model of how to solve these problems around the world.”
Meselhe also effectively connects the dots for politicians and policy makers in Louisiana, helping to win almost unanimous legislative approval for the state’s latest coastal master plan.
“Ehab has been an invaluable partner in developing the master plan,” says Bren Haase, deputy executive director of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which produces a new master plan every five years. “He has the unique ability to translate highly technical concepts and results to folks so that they are easily understandable, easily digestible and effective.”
Meselhe recently stepped down as vice president of engineering at the Water Institute to more fully engage a cross-disciplinary approach to water management as a professor at Tulane University’s River-Coastal Science and Engineering Dept. He still works with the institute, however, as a senior technical advisor.