Alumni Spotlight: Taylor Poulos: ISyE Background Offers Practical, Scalable Solution to an Enormous Global Sanitation Problem

May 13, 2016 | Atlanta, GA

Taylor Poulos, a newly graduated alumna of the Stewart School of Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISyE), will be joining UBS Investment Bank as an equity derivatives analyst this summer. Poulous enjoys the financial aspects of industrial engineering and has had an interest in trading stock since she was a young girl. 

During her time at Georgia Tech, Poulos also had a passion for volunteering for the nonprofit organization, Wish for WASH. The nonprofit was started by Jasmine Burton, a fellow Georgia Tech graduate, who won the 2014 Georgia Tech Inventure Prize Competition for the SafiChoo mobile toilet. (“SafiChoo” means “clean toilet” in Kiswahili.) Wish for WASH “develops user-friendly toilet systems that are also cost-effective” for developing countries.

In this interview, which took place prior to Poulos’ graduation, she discusses – among other topics – her work for Wish for WASH, and how her ISyE training helped her improve the nonprofit’s business development.

You’re about to graduate. Why did you select Georgia Tech for your college experience, and ISyE as your major?

I decided to come to Georgia Tech because I really wanted to do engineering. Being an in-state student, Georgia Tech was a really great option, and it gave me so many opportunities, such as studying abroad and internships. I chose ISyE because I thought it would be a great way to gain exposure to engineering but still have a wide variety of options for internships and future career opportunities. The opportunity to study abroad in Beijing and Singapore with ISyE was also a major selling point.

You have considerable internship experience with financial analysis, and you’ll be pursuing a career in this field after graduation. What interests you most about this area?

My interest in the stock market has really fueled my general interest in finance. I love trading stocks, which I have done since I was quite young. In fact, I bought my first shares of a mutual fund when I was nine years old.

What are you looking forward to most about your new job in NYC with UBS Investment Bank as an equity derivatives analyst?

I love the pace of the market. The stock market is really a compilation of world events, and there is a living, breathing art behind it that I find thrilling. Every day on the UBS trading floor during my internship last summer was a unique experience. I love that I can walk into work where things can change at a moment’s notice. More specifically, I enjoy equity derivatives because they provide a very technical way to express opinions on the market. I feel incredibly grateful to have gotten the opportunity to work full-time doing something I love.

Other than Wish for WASH, of all your extracurricular activities, which has been the most significant for you, and why?

My time spent on Freshman Council was the most significant for my college career aside from Wish for WASH. The opportunity to be a part of that organization was really important for me, because it helped me to see that there is more to life than just schoolwork. Freshman Council really helped me to embrace equally important aspects in college: finding passions in life and forming lifelong friendships. I was fortunate enough to be an advisor for another council after my own experience.

Please briefly explain Wish for WASH’s mission.

Wish for WASH aims to develop user-friendly toilet systems that are also cost-effective. Wish for WASH really seeks to help better the human condition through improved sanitation for the 2.5 billion people who do not have access to adequate sanitation around the world. These sanitation issues disproportionally affect women, so part of improving sanitary conditions will be to improve the lives of women around the world.

What is your role at Wish for WASH?

I work primarily on business development for Wish for WASH – I am working to help find a sustainable business solution as Wish for WASH hopes to expand. It’s a very challenging project, as there are very limited resources and specific cultural norms, aid availability, and established systems unique to each potential market. There is no “one size fits all” solution to improve the sanitation needs for 2.5 billion people all over the world when no two situations or markets are the same. If it were easy, it would have been done already!

Describe your trip to Zambia with Wish for WASH: Why was it important for you to go, and what did you do while there?

During my trip to Zambia, I assisted with the first phase of the beta test of the latest SafiChoo toilet design in a peri-urban community in Lusaka. During my time there, the Wish for WASH team oversaw the retrofitting/cleaning of the current pit as well as the construction and installation of the SafiChoo toilet. We met with various stakeholders including toilet users, engineers, construction workers, and local fecal collection agencies to discuss possible further implementation of the toilet. We really aimed to gain information on the feasibility of implementing this system on a larger scale.

In Zambia, I was mostly interested in learning as much as possible regarding the availability of funding and the market in order to find the best way to create a sustainable business model. Until I went to Zambia, I did not fully understand the difficulty in implementing a revolutionary toilet design halfway across the world, in a community with few resources and established systems and cultural norms that are so different from ours here in the U.S. It was an incredibly worthwhile time.

Aside from working, we also went on safaris, were able to pet rhinos and cheetahs, and visited local markets. All in all, it made for a very exciting trip!

How is Wish for WASH piloting the latest SafiChoo toilet design in Zambia?

As mentioned earlier, Wish for WASH is working with a local community in Lusaka, Zambia. The organization is aiming to see how well the SafiChoo system meets user preferences and needs, test the feasibility of manufacturing and implementation, and evaluate the scalability of our system in this and other markets. We are testing the design for usability while also evaluation potential future costs, revenue streams, and production methodologies.

Again, this is largely a test of both the design feasibility and usability, and a test to see how the toilet performs in the marketplace, as well as gauging how expensive and feasible it would be to implement this on a larger scale in this community (and others and in different contexts elsewhere).

What does your IE background enable you to do for the organization that you might not otherwise be able to do?

My ISyE knowledge and background has helped me to approach this problem from a very practical, straightforward approach. While I may not be able to contribute as much to the design of the toilet, I am able to help Wish for WASH develop a sustainable business model and evaluate how to practically grow Wish for Wash as a business. I prefer to look at the problem from more of a logistics and business perspective.

Also, given my finance background, I am interested in determining how to get funding continuously so that this is not a one-time charity donation but rather a means of helping people help themselves. All perspectives are valuable and in the context of such a complex problem, making an interdisciplinary approach necessary. My particular ISyE background gives me a unique and valuable perspective in terms of developing a practical, scalable solution to an enormous global sanitation problem.

Related Media

Click on image(s) to view larger version(s)

  • Taylor Poulos, ISyE alumna, works with Wish for WASH on the organization's business development.

  • Taylor Poulos with friends from Wish for WASH

  • A Georgia Tech team working with Wish for WASH in Zambia

For More Information Contact

Shelley Wunder-Smith

Stewart School of Industrial & Systems Engineering

404.385.4745