Marianna Novellino SDM ’13: a systems approach to environmental sustainability

Marianna Novellino By Ted Bowen
February 5, 2013

Whether removing industrial and biological material from water or keeping harmful substances out of the environment, wastewater treatment requires biological, chemical, and physical processes. However, Marianna Novellino, SDM ’13, believes that designing and maintaining treatment facilities and producing new technologies is also about connections — between population trends and infrastructure, new products and legacy systems, and most importantly, among technology, people, and business.

As an environmental engineer, Novellino has designed municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants and worked as a product manager for a multinational supplier of wastewater processing equipment and systems. The Venezuela native received an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at that country’s Universidad National Experimental del Tachira and earned a Master’s in civil engineering from the University of Dayton.

In exploring options to facilitate the next phase of her career, Novellino ruled out pursuing an MBA in favor of a program that integrates engineering and management. "Combining technology and management expertise is a basic requirement for me," she explained. "In my industry, many professionals either have one or the other but not both. This can lead their companies down less successful paths. I want to be one of the new, emerging leaders who understands how technical and management issues affect each other, and consequently the business."

Novellino has a longstanding interest in water resources. As a child, she was an avid fan of Jacques Cousteau and considered a degree in marine biology. Instead, she channeled her concern for the environment into studying technologies and systems for cleaning up water. In addition to sewage treatment and drinking water, she is interested in finding ways to reduce water use and pollution in energy production.

According to Novellino, the wastewater industry needs modernizing, both in terms of receptivity to new technology and to new methods of deployment. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, she sees opportunities for better monitoring and analysis software and telecommunications products. She expressed concern that ideas that could benefit society and the environment fail to reach market. Consequently, while at SDM she intends to focus on innovation, product development, and sustainability, particularly in terms of infrastructure.

Novellino said that infrastructure innovation can mean repurposing or refining existing technologies, noting that she worked on a project that used a 30-year old filter design that was upgraded with technology for controls and instrumentation, to significantly reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff in the Chesapeake Bay area.

As in other areas of infrastructure, funding for wastewater treatment is chronically scarce, which affects delivery of this essential service and can delay implementation of new regulations for years, according to Novellino. "Everybody should have access to clean water, but it’s expensive and it’s running out. We are polluting the environment if we have to process it, so we have to address both the social and financial areas. It’s all related," she noted.

Because the challenges in this sector are complex and interrelated, they are well-suited to SDM’s curriculum. For Novellino, systems thinking is a useful tool for understanding connections and relationships, both between technology and business within an enterprise, and in the broader context of environment, business, and society.

Well-versed in advanced infrastructure in North and South America and Asia, Novellino has also observed conditions in less developed communities. She volunteered in Honduras for the Denver-based non-governmental organization Water for People, surveying rural villages, reporting on their access to water, their sewage systems, and public health, conducting outreach on hygiene, and coordinating and sharing information with local water authorities.

Novellino is open to a range of post-SDM possibilities where she can apply her experience in the environmental engineering industry, as well as the knowledge from the SDM program. She would like to continue helping the environment, people, and industrial development by leading an environmental company. She also considers regulation a good fit for someone with expertise in both technology and business.

Marianna Novellino
Photo by Dave Schultz