In an encore of The Business Beat, Steve Jones-D’Agostino interviews Dr. Stephen Mecca, professor in the Department of Engineering-Physics-Systems at Providence College and also a past president of the Jamestown Rotary Club in Rhode Island. They talk about the business of reinventing the toilet. This episode aired originally on July 24, 2016.
As the Jamestown (Rhode Island) Press reported in 2012: “’Someone said you are what you think about everyday,’ said Dr. Stephen Mecca, a Jamestown resident who has been on the faculty at Providence College since 1969. ‘If that’s the case, I’m a toilet.’” While Dr. Mecca began his teaching career as a nuclear physicist, in recent years he has been awarded two grants for work in his current area of interest: toilets. Specifically, microflush toilets.
Dr. Mecca grew up in New York and he first visited Rhode Island when he was a junior in high school to look at Providence College. He ended up enrolling at PC, where he stayed through graduate school. He earned a master’s degree in physics, and from there went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for his doctorate.
Although Dr. Mecca still teaches nuclear physics and is chairman of the Rhode Island Atomic Energy Commission, in recent years his interests have turned to complex problem-solving and economics. It was when he was working as a visiting professor eight years ago in the African country of Ghana, that he became appalled by the sanitation situation there. He decided that something had to be done.
According to Dr. Mecca, the sanitation crisis is off the scale. Diarrhea is the leading cause of death of children in the developing world. In the schools, there are often no toilets – if there are, then they’re filthy. Disease that results from the unclean conditions leads to absenteeism in schools. All of this adds up to a profoundly negative impact on the quality of education.