Honors alumna Maria DeChellis ’97 began working in utilities shortly after graduating from the University of South Carolina with her master’s degree in 1999. At that time, she had no idea that career would lead to what would become her passion.
While working as the Chief of Customer Operations for the the Division of Public Works of the City of Baltimore, Maria was inspired to start a nonprofit called AccessH20. According to their website, Maria’s nonprofit “focuses on providing financial assistance, education and support to individuals and families experiencing temporary financial hardship to avoid water shut-off.”
Maria explained that many people do not understand what a house without water truly means.
“The house is uninhabitable without water,” she said. “The certificate of occupancy is taken away from a home if it is without water. A child cannot live in a home without water because there is no certificate of occupancy for the home. If a child has no relative that will take them in, a child will be removed from their parents without [a certificate of occupancy] in the home.”
Perhaps one of her most surreal moments along her journey was being selected as a Presidential Leadership Scholar. This program is born out of a desire to inspire civic and social leadership, the presidential centers of George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Lyndon B. Johnson developed the PLS program to help professionals in their field tackle global problems, hone their leadership abilities, and develop a network that spans traditional geographic, professional, political, and economic boundaries.
“We had to stand up that first day and you had to say what your current job is, social initiative that you want to develop (a water affordability program), your background and your university. In that room I heard Stanford, Princeton, Harvard… I heard every Ivy League university,” she recalled. “I very confidently stood up and said Maria DeChellis, University of South Carolina.”
In addition to being the founder and executive director of AccessH20, Maria is also the senior director of global strategy and value for Oracle in their Energy and Water Business Unit.
“I am a solutions architect. I help plan and execute programs for utilities around some of their pressing business problems or desired outcomes. Right now, resiliency of our grid, water infrastructure, clean energy initiatives, and affordability issues keep things very busy and interesting.”
Her favorite part of her job is working with the customer to understand what their problems are and helping them map out a strategy.
Maria commented that a lot of her work is analytical thought, especially her work in technical architecture. She credits her strong critical thinking skills to her time in the South Carolina Honors College.
During her time at the university, Maria took an Honors logic course that she still uses in her work in software architecture to this day. She joked that she had no idea how much she was going to need that course.
When asked what advice Maria would give to students, she said, “You are always mentoring in life: just as much as a student as in the workplace. Make sure you are always reaching for others on your path, helping, teaching, learning from, and exchanging information with them. The professors I had and friendships that I made helped me gain confidence and set the foundation for the rest of my career. Be that mentor to everyone you interact with…you will never be forgotten for setting a great example of leadership."