Stevens Alumna Starts Company to Help the U.S. and China

7/18/2011

It’s strange to say, but an interest in garbage is what brought Yuhong Jiang, M. Eng. ’91, to Stevens — and the United States.

Jiang, president of BRISEA International Development, an environmental engineering consulting firm which specializes in environmental/energy projects between the United States and developing countries, first came to the United States after graduating from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, in 1988. She was interested in how to reuse solid waste and, at the time, courses in recycling weren’t offered in China. While all countries contribute to landfills with their garbage, China has a larger contribution due to its large population, she said.

When deciding on a graduate school, she visited her cousin who was studying at Columbia University in New York City.

“I didn’t like New York City,” she said with a slight laugh. “Then he took me to Stevens, and I got this feeling that this is the school. I can’t explain it, but it was just this feeling.”

But life in a new country wasn’t easy from the get-go. Her English was poor, she said, and when a Stevens professor would lecture, sometimes she didn’t fully understand what was being said. But once an idea went on the blackboard and she could see it, any misunderstanding went out the window.

Jiang lived on River Street in Hoboken while a graduate student and after graduation, she worked for CH2M, Foster Wheeler Environmental and Ebasco Environmental before starting BRISEA in February 1999. The company has two offices: the U.S. headquarters is based in Parsippany, N.J., and a Beijing office opened in January 2010. The company has been active in helping China’s energy and environmental projects. BRISEA consults in the areas of site remediation and redevelopment, water, waste water and solid waste. Clients include energy, environmental, pharmaceutical and petrochemical companies, as well as The World Bank, the United Nations and Chinese and U.S. government agencies.

“I love my job,” Jiang said. “The U.S. is about 20 to 30 years ahead of China in terms of environmental protection. I get to introduce technology from the U.S. to China which creates jobs for the U.S. companies here.”

Jiang’s love of learning was fostered at home from the beginning. Both her parents were college professors and from an early age, she saw that they both enjoyed their jobs. “They were my role models,” she said. “They loved what they did.” At first, she wanted to be a professor like them. But she knew she wanted to solve the problem of how to recycle properly, so an engineering career was born.

For women, there are some challenges to being an environmental engineer: “It’s not always an office job. You go to places that are muddy and dirty. You have to love it and be willing to do what needs to be done.”

This busy engineer and business owner tries to find the balance between her career and her family in northern New Jersey. She credits her husband with his support at home with their two daughters, ages 13 and 7. And she appreciates the team at BRISEA for their support as well.
   
For work, she travels to China about five times a year and often travels within the United States as well. And BRISEA has grown since those early days in 1999. Due to the time difference in China and the ever-changing technology, BRISEA has become a 24-hour operation so the opportunity to work during the off-hours is increasing, Jiang said, adding that she often works late at night after her daughters go to bed.

She takes her girls to China every summer to spend time with their grandparents and extended family. She doesn’t see herself moving back there and explains that she can do more for both countries by staying in the United States and building on her company’s reputation within China. She said she’s more interested in the satisfaction of doing a good job than in a huge profit.

Her time at Stevens enabled her to cultivate relationships she still values to this day. While Jiang was a student in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Dr. George Korfiatis, who is now Provost, was a professor and her assigned adviser. But Korfiatis’ area was more focused on site remediation/groundwater cleanup, and she was interested more in garbage recycling and wastewater treatment. She spoke to him about changing her adviser to someone with a background in that field.

“I still remember how scared I was. I was expecting him to be unhappy. However, he surprised me. He was so calm and kind. He helped me analyze what I wanted to study and then advised me that Dr. David Vaccari would be a good professor for me,”’ she recalled.

“In China, 20 years ago, it would have been impossible for a student to go to a professor and ask for a change,” Jiang says. “Stevens taught me that the professors there really viewed your capabilities. They guided the students. I was fortunate to go to school in the United States. Stevens gave me a good starting point.”

Through her studies, a professional connection was made with Dr. Vaccari, an associate professor and department director of Environmental and Ocean Engineering. “I still keep in contact with Dr. Vaccari and Dr. Korfiatis,” she said.

Recently, Dr. Vaccari recalled Jiang’s days at Stevens.

“Yuhong was a remarkable student. She had amazing energy and enthusiasm. I remember being surprised at her entrepreneurial spirit. This was back when China was still starting to open up to the west,” he said. “Her infectious enthusiasm makes you want to work hard, too.”

Even now, 20 years after graduation, Stevens is still a special place for Jiang.

“I’ve been back to Stevens many times since my graduation,” she said. “Stevens gave me challenges and showed me how people should be respected and treated equally.

“I know that Stevens is always there for me. If I need help, I have a place where I can go to for professional advice. There are people there who I can turn to,” she said.

She repeatedly uses the word fortunate to describe herself and her journey. When asked about the difficulty of starting her own business, she’s quick to point out that while it was hard to begin a new business venture, the United States is very fair. It may have taken her a little longer to get to the goal than someone who was born here, but she has a simple recipe for success: work hard, be smart and love what you do.

“If you can do these things, then you can get where you want.”