At a special event for Loyola Marymount University students, Maria-Elena Giner ’90, appointed by President Biden last summer as U.S. commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), traced her remarkable journey — from first-generation college graduate to the first Latina and second woman to head the U.S. section of the IBWC, which implements boundary and water treaties between the U.S. and Mexico and provides binational solutions when issues arise around rivers, sanitation, water quality, and flood control in the border region.
Giner spoke about her career path and offered career advice to the LMU students as part of the Charles Turhollow Speaker Series offered by the Civil Engineering Council for Industry Partnerships (CIP), which connects LMU civil and environmental engineering students with professionals for educational and mentoring opportunities. She was introduced by CIP chair Christiana Daisy ’91, deputy general manager at Inland Empire Utilities Agency, who was Giner’s roommate during their time at LMU. The event was held February 1 on campus in the Life Sciences Building Auditorium for students, and over Zoom for other attendees.
After graduating from an all-girls Catholic high school in El Paso, Texas, Giner enrolled at LMU for her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, where she received a Jesuit education that would shape her career. “Everything was service learning, and that carries through,” said Giner, who was an active member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers during her time at LMU. “When people ask me, ‘Where do you work?,’ I say I serve the most disadvantaged communities in the United States.”
It was during an internship at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power while she was an LMU student that Giner discovered her love of water issues, and upon graduation she was hired by Don Kendall, current chair of civil and environmental engineering, who was then at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
In 1998, Giner began a nearly two-decade stint at the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC), based in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, just south of El Paso. Starting as a project manager, Giner climbed the ranks and was appointed by the U.S. and Mexican governments as general manager in 2010. During her tenure, she led the development and financing of $9 billion in environmental infrastructure to the benefit of approximately 100 communities and more than 10 million residents along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as focusing on policies that addressed U.S.-Mexico cooperation on water, energy, and climate change.
Giner left the BECC in 2017 to pursue her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, focusing in her dissertation on the intersection of public policy and municipal infrastructure in the area of the U.S.-Mexico border. She had just completed her degree and was celebrating her daughter’s high school graduation at her husband’s restaurant in Austin when she received a call from the Office of Presidential Personnel about the IBWC commissioner position.
After outlining the importance of the commission’s work, Giner offered advice to the LMU student attendees. “It’s important you take advantage of internships to get experience,” she said. “You want to build your network before you need it, and never burn those bridges. Learn to write, present, and speak in public. Learn how your boss prefers to communicate. Be accountable by showing results. And, the one I live by all the time: Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. You can share all your knowledge, but people want to know that you’re passionate about it.”