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Graduate finds success by turning tragedy into challenge

UIC Tresor Moolo civil engineering Congo

The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the world in many ways. For graduating seniors, it means in-person graduation is cancelled. This interruption is one of many obstacles that people will face throughout their lives. Overcoming difficulties has been a consistent part of life for CME’s Tresor Moolo, and he has used the challenges to become a more positive person and make the world a better place.

Moolo is the second oldest of five children born in Gemena, Democratic Republic of Congo, and he faced challenges at very young age.

“When I was 10, I lost my mother, and then at 12 [years old] my dad passed away,” he said. “I grew up as an orphan and my older brother had to move out of the house, and I stayed with my [younger] brothers to take care of them. At that age, I had to be an adult … I was paying for my own school, food, healthcare, and everything.”

Some days Moolo didn’t eat; they only had the water that he carried back to his uncle’s house. He fetched it twice a day — before and after school — from about five miles away. While the challenges of caring for himself and his siblings proved to be difficult, Moolo used the tragedy as inspiration.

“I chose civil engineering specifically because of my mom,” he said. “She died on the way to the hospital. It took two days and the distance was only 70 miles away from our home. The road and bridge were in very bad condition, and she could not get to the hospital on time, and she passed. I realized that if I was an engineer that maybe I could fix that road or make a better road condition so that does not happen to other people.” (Moolo was not able to attend the funeral of either of his parents due to the poor road conditions.)

The road and bridge were not the only problems Moolo and his siblings were facing. Moolo and his brothers were ill multiple times in a year due to the poor quality of the drinking water, a common problem in Congo and the reason why he chose to focus his studies and work in Congo on clean water.

As a UIC student, he focused on structural engineering, but he got to continue his work in northeast Congo when he landed a position with Paul Carlson Partnership (PCP) creating clean water sources.

“I was recommended for this job through a friend. This happened because I already had a background in this field and I speak several languages in different regions,” he said. “I work as a contractor, but internationally I’m a director of all of the engineering projects that PCP does in Congo.”

The work included traveling to the region twice a year to build clean water sources.

“We are building six new water sources this year, and last year we completed five water sources, which are providing clean water to more than 50,000 people in rural areas of Congo,” said Moolo, who recently graduated with a BS in civil engineering. “I worked so hard to overcome many barriers to reach this day, and I am grateful for all the support I received from UIC to reach my goals.”

While Moolo is excited about completing his degree, he’s still thinking of others as he was planning to visit Congo again. However, his plans changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and he had to postpone his trip.

“Water sources are still in process, despite the global pandemic. After the pandemic is over, I will look forward to seeing the results of all the work,” he said. “I am looking for full-time employment as a civil engineer here in Chicago and hope that I can continue my work with PCP in Congo.”

Sybil Derrible, an associate professor of civil and materials engineering, said that “it is hard to express with words how great it is to be surrounded by such amazing and yet so modest people like Tresor.” He added: “It is also a reminder to all of us that good engineers save lives, that is what we do, and as long as we have talented and passionate engineers like Tresor, we will be in good hands.”