Portrait of James Harper
PhD Graduate
Civil Systems • Engineering for Developing Communities

Office: SEEC N290

By appointment

Trained as an engineer and experienced as a STEM educator and a licensed professional mechanical design engineer, James focuses on engineering sustainable societies in low-income communities and educating youth in the western world about related topics.  James' multi-disciplinary research uses behavioral science and economics theory to investigate how rural households make decisions when their latrine pits fill.  James regularly works directly with development practitioners around the world to develop services and products to achieve safe fecal sludge management in rural contexts.  In the past, James has worked on infrastructure development projects including community-scale water-treatment systems, solar power systems, and earthquake-resistant housing in rural India.  Outside of work, James has volunteered extensively for mountain rescue and ski patrol, and enjoys backpacking, rock climbing, canoeing, cooking, and traveling.


  • PhD in Civil Systems Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder, expected 2020

  • MS in Civil Systems Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder, 2019

  • MS in Mechanical Engineering (Summa Cum Laude), University of California San Diego, 2008

  • BS in Mechanical Engineering (Specializations in Computer-Aided Design and Distributed Solar Power Generation), University of California San Diego, 2010

Registrations and Affiliations

  • Professional Engineer (PE) 

California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists

  • Lead Program Engineer, Engineers with Borders-USA

  • Member, American Society of Mechanical Engineers


  • NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Honorable Mention, 2017

  • Symposium for Sustainable Infrastructure 2, 3rd place poster ($100), 2017

  • Department of Education Graduate Assistantship in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Fellowship, 2016

  • UC San Diego Mechanical and Aerospace Department Highest Academic Achievement Award, 2008

  • UC San Diego Mechanical and Aerospace Department Design Award, First Place, 2008

  • Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society, 2003 – 2010

  • Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society, 2003 – 2010