A FORMER U.S. MARINE was looking for a career change after a diagnosis with intestinal cancer. Following his recovery and a bachelor’s degree through the GI Bill, he enrolled in the Integrated Marketing Communications Master’s Program at West Virginia University.
Andy Stofleth, MS ’17, then did something that combined his fortitude with a career in marketing. He joined SBP – a long-term disaster resilience and recovery nonprofit – in 2018 as the national director of communications.
“IMC is more than just theory – it’s a scenario-based curriculum with tons of case studies and practical exercises that help you try and operationalize strategy,” he said. “For me, it reinforced the theory with real-world situations that in some cases were executed well, or not so well – but in the end allowed for deeper understanding and analysis of the facts.”
After Hurricane Dorian devastated several of the northern islands of the Bahamas in 2019, Stofleth began work that would eventually be recognized by Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.
“At the time, SBP was only a U.S.-based nonprofit, so I deployed for what was supposed to be five days to bear witness, understand the needs and communicate back,” Stofleth said. “Instead, I found that I was well-equipped to leverage our resources and start making an immediate impact. Almost three years later, I’m still here overseeing our operations where we have rebuilt almost 400 homes and launched several new initiatives that may never have come to fruition had I not been here.”
Stofleth became executive director at SPB in the Bahamas in February 2020. In the wake of Dorian, SBP launched a rebuilding program to assist low-to-moderate income families in recovering their homes. But to help rebuild their communities, SBP and Stofleth knew more needed to be done.
“That’s when we formed a public-private partnership with the Bahamas Public Hospitals, CDC Foundation and others to retrofit several of the government healthcare facilities with water purification and storage systems, so that healthcare workers could provide uninterrupted lifesaving services without worrying about having safe, sanitary and clean water for daily operations,” Stofleth said. “The real innovation was in building these systems to produce more water than the hospitals needed, so that in future disasters the hospital could provide water to the surrounding communities, shortening the response time and potentially eliminating the need for outside support.”
SBP built their state-of-the-art water purification system at the second-largest healthcare facility in the Bahamas – Rand Memorial Hospital – while the government was rebuilding it after the hurricane’s destruction. After 18 months, the hospital’s grand opening and SBP’s reverse osmosis water purification system commissioning were hosted on the same day. Stofleth toured the production area with the prime minister and minister of health.
“I had the opportunity to explain the design, and we let the prime minister power up the system before raising a glass of purified water and toasting the future of the Rand Memorial Hospital,” Stofleth said. “It was a long day celebrating the end of a very long project, but it was insanely rewarding to see the transformation at the hospital.”
Now, after two-and-a-half years, Stofleth shows no signs of slowing down. When the stratovolcano La Soufrière erupted in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, he got to work.
“Volcanic ash covered the island, damaging homes, hospitals and schools,” he explained. “I wanted to understand if we could upcycle the volcanic ash to make cement blocks like the ancient Romans, which could be used to rebuild the same structures. Around 84 percent of the buildings in St. Vincent are made from cement blocks, so there was massive potential to figure this out.”
Stofleth’s instincts were right. The volcanic ash could be upcycled to produce a high compressive-strength block, saving significant resources and costs.
The impact of SBP on communities is part of what keeps Stofleth in his career in service. He also enjoys the camaraderie that blooms in the face of disaster.
“You develop a closeness with your internal team, other humanitarian aid groups, government officials and community leaders who are all collaborating and helping to solve problems. You get to see a side of folks in this line of work that you’d not get in an office working 8 to 5. The stakes are high, people are stressed and vulnerable. It allows you to form deeper connections with people, which is a remarkable thing.”
Stofleth encourages those who are interested in serving others professionally to pursue that dream, especially those who are considering – like he once did – a significant pivot in their career.
“At nearly every college graduation there is always a call to action to never stop learning,” he said. “Nowhere in that statement does it say, ‘Never stop learning in your current field of study.’ So think outside the box, take calculated risks – and if it makes sense for you, pursue opportunities outside your current field."