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Alumni Spotlight: Tracy Hawkins & the Ceramic Supply Chain

May 27, 2009

After taking a three-week volunteer vacation to Tanzania in 2005, Tracy Hawkins (B IE 1985) was afforded a unique opportunity to combine her background in systems engineering and her passion for pottery.

Formerly a project manager in the corporate world, she began working to establish a pottery school in northern Tanzania. When her research into pottery methods uncovered the technique of ceramic water filtration, Hawkins saw the chance to serve humanity by updating old technology with new distribution methods. Aiming to stop the spread of disease through contaminated drinking water in Tanzania, Hawkins organized a staff and developed Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa (SWCEA).

Since 2007, Tracy and her Tanzanian-based organization have collaborated with Lisa Ballantine of AguaPure, a company located in the Dominican Republic with similar goals. Hawkins has traveled to the island nation to stay with the Ballantines and to tour their manufacturing and distribution facilities. The partnership has fostered the creation of an international non-profit organization focused on solving the problem of contaminated drinking water world-wide, FilterPure Inc.

FilterPure, now operating distribution centers in both Tanzania and the Dominican Republic, provides ceramic water filters and safe drinking water to the people of developing nations across the world. The commercial production of this technique dates back two centuries in England when it was used to combat the spread of cholera. At the cost of about $30, a ceramic pot nestled in a five-gallon plastic bucket is able to filter contaminated river water into clean drinking water for a family for five years.

Nancy Sandlin, Director of Development for the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, recently learned of FilterPure and invited Hawkins to return to Georgia Tech to meet with ISyE's Humanitarian Logistics research team. As a result, Pinar Keskinocak, Associate Professor in the Stewart School and Co-Director of the Research Center for Humanitarian Logistics, and Amanda Meija, Ph.D. student in ISyE, have begun working to analyze various aspects of the ceramic filter supply chain. "Our goal is to help FilterPure in any way we can," says Dr. Keskinocak, "to see an increased use of ceramic filters and to make a positive impact on the developing communities in various parts of the world through the adoption of safe and clean water."

First, the team will focus on refining the company's business plan as FilterPure hopes to obtain funding for new manufacturing locations in additional countries. The team will next perform a cost analysis of current operations and a competitive analysis against other water treatment products. They will then investigate alternative distribution models that might empower FilterPure to provide clean drinking water to more people as a result of reduced supply chain costs.

"My industrial engineering background has been key in helping me to support this humanitarian project because I have been exposed to so many sciences," Hawkins admits, "It's a perfect fit; I am learning something new every day and incorporating it into our plans. The project management aspect and the creative problem solving are the two main skills that I use in my work.

"We used to operate within our own country's non-governmental organizations," Hawkins says, referring to the time before her collaboration with AguaPure in the Dominican Republic, "but we decided to take our knowledge and package it to help others start these filter programs in countries all over the world. With FilterPure, we are building an infrastructure to provide that support. That's where Georgia Tech is really helping us, with some of the complicated challenges that we now have to be overcome."

Hawkins is a 1985 graduate of the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Her professional experience includes fifteen years in the corporate world as an efficiency expert and project manager at Equifax Inc. and IBM Corporation. As Vice President of FilterPure, she now lives in the Atlanta area and performs much of her work long-distance, assisting with technical writing and business administration. She will return to Tanzania for a two-week stay in July, her first visit to the nation since the summer of 2007.

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  • Tracy Hawkins

  • Technicians proudly display their work.

  • Young girl with water filter.

For More Information Contact+

Barbara Christopher
Industrial and Systems Engineering
Contact Barbara Christopher
404.385.3102

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Supply Chain & Logistics Institute
H. Milton Stewart School of
Industrial & Systems Engineering
765 Ferst Drive, NW, Suite 228
Atlanta, GA 30332
Phone: 404.894.2343