Final Five

with Trey Wallace, photographer and industrial engineering senior at Mississippi State University

Trey Wallace, photographer and industrial engineering senior at Mississippi State UniversityAspiring to a career in nonprofit management, industrial engineering major Trey Wallace uses photography as an instrument of change through humanitarian documentary work. Wallace spent two summers working with Starkville, Mississippi-based nonprofit Reclaimed Project in Lesotho, South Africa, where his images helped raise awareness of young people affected by HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty. His work can be found at

What drew you to industrial engineering and nonprofits?

I have known since I was a kid that I would be an engineer. The intense problem-solving and mathematics that compose all types of engineering fascinated me. I began in computer engineering. After looking at internship opportunities, I realized that my love for working with people aligned better with the job descriptions for industrial engineering. I changed majors and have been in love with it ever since.

My interest in nonprofit work stems from the immense opportunity in the field. Manufacturing has been the focus of IE work for decades, and nearly every industry has undergone a technological revolution. Many nonprofits are years behind industry and in desperate need of streamlining. It is exciting to work in an environment where there are undiscovered solutions to every problem. Humanitarian engineering provides me with a new frontier in which I know my work will have an impact.

How does your IE education help you with nonprofit work?

My IE education has really taught me the importance of sustainability. The most difficult part of solving humanitarian issues is to find solutions that are sustainable and self-sufficient. A systemsoriented approach to problem-solving allows IEs to better understand complex solutions. Solving humanitarian problems isn't accomplished by moving around money or aid – it's done by designing systems, systems that give those affected access to education, means to partake in the economy and more.

Wallace's work can be found at

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

After I graduate I plan on pursuing a graduate degree in international development. My long-term goal is a career in nonprofit management. I would love to help design international humanitarian solutions. Right now, I am working in process improvement at a large nonprofit hospital. This work has really peaked my interest in healthcare.

What advice would you give other IE students pursuing their passions?

Figure out what you love outside of class. Find what drives you, what you'd be thrilled to work on every day. Then apply your education to it. Don't worry if your passion is music, medicine or whatever – you can use your IE skills in that field. Every industry can benefit from what you have learned. Don't ever think you have to settle for working on something that you don't love. That's the beauty of industrial engineering.

What did you learn as an IE from your humanitarian work?

I've learned to value the people my work affects. Much humanitarian work feels so distant – sending aid overseas to faceless recipients. As a photographer, I got the opportunity to work up close and personal with my subjects. This made me fall in love with my work there. I wasn't just working; I was building relationships with other people. As IEs, we work on systems [that] almost always include other people in some capacity. While you do your optimization calculations, it is important to remember that people aren't just another variable. At the end of all the equations, our work impacts lives. It's our responsibility to ensure we serve the best interests of the humans in our systems.

– Interview by Cassandra Johnson