Going with the flow
by Jan Hester
Since the facility’s beginnings, Senior Engineer Joel Minier Matar has played an important role at ConocoPhillips’ Global Water Sustainability Center (GWSC), located in Doha, Qatar. He helped design water treatment processes and set up laboratory equipment and has been key to implementing field pilot studies and preparing technical reports and publications. Joel was recognized for his achievements with a 2018 SPIRIT of Performance Award for Outstanding Early Career Technologist.
Born in Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic, to parents of Lebanese origin, Joel grew up in the city of La Romana on the island’s idyllic Caribbean coast.
“It’s near a large resort area, so there were beaches everywhere and lots of things to do.”
When Joel was 18, he returned to Santo Domingo to study civil engineering. After completing his undergraduate degree, he tried out a few different things, including structural engineering, until he found his niche.
“I discovered I really enjoyed dealing with water.”
To pursue his interest, Joel got a position designing basic municipal water treatment systems.
“The villages were small, with 500 to 1,000 people, so the systems were very simple — a sand filter, pump and tank with chlorine to treat the water.”
As part of the team establishing a pipeline distribution network for the villages, one of his roles was to inspect completed systems. On one of those inspections, Joel witnessed firsthand the human impact of his work.
“I visited a village to see if everybody could access water,” Joel said. “One woman told me she had lived there 40 years, and this was the first time she had gotten water in her house. These villagers used to walk three kilometers just to get water that might not be clean. I knew at that moment that my career would be in the field of water.”
Having been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to study in the U.S., Joel pursued a master’s in environmental engineering with a focus on water at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
“When I graduated in 2008 and was job hunting, the stock market had crashed and opportunities were scarce.”
Through a friend he heard that GWSC Manager Samer Adham was building a staff.
“Samer interviewed me, but there was a hiring freeze on; so I moved back to the Dominican Republic, and we stayed in touch.”
In 2009, Joel joined the company.
“Joel is what success looks like,” said Samer. “When you hire for a research center with a specific mission, there’s no automatic perfect fit. So you look for people with smarts, education and a desire to grow to meet the organization’s needs. As the center has flourished, so has Joel.”
Joel’s life changed in 2011, when Samer hired a new assistant engineer. Mary Katbeh had just graduated from Texas A&M University in Doha. Born in the U.S. of Syrian origin, Mary grew up in Abu Dhabi.
“One of my tasks was to train her on the equipment, so we got to know each other as friends.”
Their relationship evolved, and Joel and Mary were married in August 2012. Their daughter Alexandra was born in December of 2013. Mary has since left ConocoPhillips, earned her master’s in chemical engineering and is currently working in the field of LNG modeling and optimization at Qatar University. The couple are expecting another daughter in November.
Joel is proud of the SPIRIT Award, the company’s most prestigious annual recognition.
“It means the work we are doing here in Doha is valuable and that the company sees that,” Joel said. “I’m proud of the team here and the progress we’ve made in 10 years. We recently helped Qatargas fix a problem with an LNG cooling loop. It’s nice to see the work we do translate into success in the field.”
Joel has settled comfortably into life in Qatar, but he initially wondered whether the country was a good fit for him.
“And then God sent me Mary.”