Smiling woman with brown hair
Managing Director
Mortenson Center in Global Engineering & Resilience • Global Engineering Residential Academic Program

Laura MacDonald is the Managing Director of the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering & Resilience and the Global Engineering Residential Academic Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. She holds a PhD in Geography and Environmental Engineering from the Johns Hopkins University and a BS in Environmental Engineering from Northwestern University. In her role as Managing Director, Laura applies her depth of expertise in decentralized water treatment and breadth of experience in large-scale research project management to manage the Mortenson Center’s research program in Rwanda and to support the Mortenson Center’s broader research portfolio in sub-Saharan Africa and the western US. Her research has been funded by USAID, the National Science Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the Autodesk Foundation, among others.

More recently, Dr. MacDonald has worked to deepen her expertise in engineering education research as a co-Investigator on two US National Science Foundation-funded research projects, one focused on graduate education in Global Engineering and the other on inter-institutional collaboration for informal undergraduate engineering education. She is a 2023-24 CU Dialogues Faculty Fellow and is pursuing the Just and Equitable Teaching micro-credential to further develop her teaching skills. Laura also provides administrative, programming and financial oversight of the Climate Innovation Collaboratory and the Mortenson Center’s graduate and undergraduate education programs. 

Dr. MacDonald further applies her management and logistics expertise as the International Carbon Programs Director at Virridy, Inc., a company that specializes in improving global water security through carbon finance. This includes overseeing the implementation of a large-scale school water treatment program in Rwanda and providing technical and logistics support to Virridy’s partners in sub-Saharan Africa to implement their carbon-financed water treatment and supply programs. 

Prior to joining the Mortenson Center and Virridy, Laura was Knowledge and Research Advisor at the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST). There, she worked to build CAWST's reputation and credibility as a global leader in capacity development and technical support for decentralized water and sanitation services. During her time at CAWST, Johns Hopkins and Northwestern, Laura's research spanned a range of topics, including household water treatment technologies in emergency response, community-level water-vending kiosks in Ghana, capacity development of sanitation practitioners, and the geochemistry of arsenic in the Atacama Desert. Throughout her studies, Laura was engaged with student groups focused on engineering and environmental education and outreach, including leadership roles in the Society of Women Engineers and Engineers for a Sustainable World.


  • PhD in Geography and Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
  • BS in Environmental Engineering, Northwestern University

Recent Publications

Macharia, D.; MacDonald, L.; Mugabo, L.; Donovan, K.; Brooks, W.; Gudissa, S.; Noriega, A.; Barstow, C.; Dickinson, K.; Thomas, E. Mixed methods study design, pre-analysis plan, process evaluation and baseline results of trailbridges in rural Rwanda. Science of the Total Environment 2022, 838 (4), 156546.

MacDonald, L.; Thomas, E.; Javernick-Will, A.; Austin-Breneman, J.; Aranda, I.; Salvinelli, C.; Klees, R.; Walters, J.; Parmentier, M. J.; Schaad, D.; Shahi, A.; Bedell, E.; Platais, G.; Brown, J.; Gershenson, J.; Watkins, D.; Obonyo, E.; Oyanedel-Craver, V.; Olson, M.; Lau, R.; Rao, G.; Arzon, A.; Krishnaswamy, K.; Pickering, A. J.; Mabey, C.; Johnson, A.; Gehr, R.; Linden, K. Aligning Learning Objectives and Approaches in Global Engineering Graduate Programs: Review and Recommendations by an Interdisciplinary Working Group. Development Engineering 2022, 7, 100095.

Thomas, E.; Salvinelli, C.; Harper, J.; MacDonald, L.; Klees, R.; Platais, G.; Javernick-Will, A.; Linden, K. A Body of Knowledge and Pedagogy for Global Engineering. IJSLE 2021, 16 (1), 37–57.

Thomas, E.; Bradshaw, A.; Mugabo, L.; MacDonald, L.; Brooks, W.; Dickinson, K.; Donovan, K. Engineering Environmental Resilience: A Matched Cohort Study of the Community Benefits of Trailbridges in Rural Rwanda. Science of The Total Environment 2021, 771, 145275.

Bradshaw, A.; Mugabo, L.; Gebremariam, A.; Thomas, E.; MacDonald, L. Integration of Household Water Filters with Community-Based Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion—A Process Evaluation and Assessment of Use among Households in Rwanda. Sustainability 2021, 13 (4), 1615.