Aqua Man

For Torin Johnson, ENG ’16, ’21, civil engineering is not just about designing structures—it’s a way to expand access to basic necessities and improve quality of life. At the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), Johnson oversees a wide range of projects, including revitalizing the water and sewer systems and modernizing storm water management in a city riddled with outdated infrastructure.

Photo credit: Ryan S. Brandenberg CLA ’14

A fish out of water

Johnson found his path early—but not without roadblocks. As a first-year student at Temple, and the first in his family to attend a four-year college, he jumped wholeheartedly into his studies. Then, two months in, his beloved grandfather died. Reeling in grief, he considered taking time off from school despite the urging of concerned friends, and struggled to complete the first year.

As a sophomore, he joined the campus chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and took a trip that would prove to be life-changing. Under the supervision of members from the group’s professional Philadelphia chapter, Johnson and fellow students traveled to Las Delicias, El Salvador, to develop a water sanitation solution for a community of 3,000 people.

“We built an intermediary tank and then put in a monitored pumping system to make sure the water was getting to the villagers,” he said. “I’d never left the country before, and it was an eye-opening experience.”

Making a splash

Johnson found the work with EWB so uplifting that it brought his academic and career goals into focus.

“Joining Engineering Without Borders really shaped my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined, including learning to see engineering from a humanitarian viewpoint and developing my work ethic,” he said.

Back in the U.S., Johnson led one of the organization’s first-ever domestic projects, building a rain catchment apparatus connected to a drip irrigation system for the Uber Street Community Garden in North Philadelphia. He later became the campus chapter president for EWB, and organized an engineering conference for 200 students. 

All of this set the stage for his current position at PWD, where he leads a team in project procurement, ensuring that project designs are functional and the projects are completed on time and on budget and where he has trained and educated over 30 engineers. He is proud to support sustainable infrastructure that will benefit people, and to help develop the next generation of engineers who will do the same. 

“I always tell people: ‘Whatever you do, have your personal mission statement figured out. Know what it is you are trying to accomplish, and what your metrics for success as a person and a professional are,’” he said.

Torin at a Glance

Current affairs

Recently, Johnson returned to Temple to earn a master’s degree in engineering management—his proudest accomplishment to date. He credits the program with helping him win top scores on a recent placement exam at his job. With the encouragement of department chair and mentor Thomas Edwards, he is now laying the groundwork for an entrepreneurial endeavor, a consultancy for startups that draws from his management education as well as his training and coaching experience.

Johnson currently serves as president of the professional Philadelphia EWB chapter, which has three major projects in the works in Philadelphia and Guatemala. It’s not lost on him that as he collaborates with and advises student engineers at Temple, he’s come full circle.

“As an engineer, you can revitalize and optimize what a community has and make what’s good even better,” he said. “To me, that is also what the Temple Made slogan is all about.”