On February 25, Tom Bauhan ‘82 returned to campus to speak with St. Andrew’s Engineering and Global Studies students about his work in international development in Afghanistan. Bauhan was joined on visit by his colleague Massoud; Bauhan and Massoud have worked together on a number of energy grid projects in Afghanistan.
Bauhan’s career path began at the University of Virginia, where he studied engineering, and went on to serve in the Navy, where he ran a ship engine room. After leaving active duty, he pursued a master’s degree in engineering at the University of Texas-Austin, and worked for some time as a structural engineer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He remained a member of the Navy Reserves Civil Engineering Corps, and in the wake of September 11, he was called up for three tours of duty in Afghanistan over the course of six years. Between these deployments, Bauhan expanded his career expanded into international aid and disaster relief, and worked on rebuilding projects in the Middle East and on the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In 2011, Bauhan stumbled upon what he describes as “the only job application I’ve been able to check off every box for,”—a position with USAID (the United States Agency for International Development) in Afghanistan. His experience as a licensed engineer, combined with his knowledge of international building and seismic codes, previous overseas work, and familiarity with Afghanistan in particular landed him the job. Bauhan found himself back in Afghanistan, first worked on hospital rebuilding projects, and then spent three years overseeing a $1 billion power generation and redistribution project in and around Kandahar City, which at that time was “a nightmare of degraded systems,” Massoud recalled. It was on this project that Bauhan met and hired Massoud,who had received his education in Kabul under the Taliban, and went on to study construction engineering and management on a Fulbright Scholarship, funded by the U.S. State Department, at Texas A&M University. During his visit to SAS, Massoud contrasted his own secondary educational experience to the Harkness tables and laboratories of St. Andrew’s campus. “We didn’t even have tables and chairs,” he said. “It was just go to school and show up. That was it.”
St. Andrew’s AS Engineering teacher Will Rehrig was excited to have Bauhan visit his classroom and “let students see what engineering looks like beyond the classroom,” Rehrig said. Bauhan spoke to students about the intersection of engineering principles and construction realities. “The big break between university [engineering] education and actually designing something that is constructible boils down to two questions,” Bauhan explained. “A, Is it possible, in terms of the engineering, to build this idea?, and B, Do you have the resources to build this? For students, design problems should be framed in a way that has them go through a very deliberate thought process of how you satisfy both of those questions. Students have to learn to apply what they know, but also engage with some of the reality checks.”
Based out of USAID’s Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs in Washington D.C., Bauhan works with the current administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He travels to Afghanistan several times a year to support USAID’s infrastructure team on the ground, managing projects and portfolios as the United States footprint and budget in the region gradually shrinks. While Bauhan notes he occasionally feels like a “fish out of water in a large bureaucracy,” he appreciates that his engineering work enables him “to actually do tangible things that have an impact on people, not governments,” he concludes. “You’re benefiting people who are the direct recipients of basic services. That’s pretty neat.”