Paul Lattanzi

Engineering graduate student Paul Lattanzi at home on Idler in Charlestown.
© Mark Morelli

A life—and a career—on the waterfront

When most people think of home, they see a house, a lawn and a few cars in the driveway. For Paul Lattanzi, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, his home is the ocean.

"I was sitting on the beach in Maine a few weeks ago, and as I was looking out at the ocean, I thought, 'If I belong anywhere it's here,' " Lattanzi says. "I think the ocean just gets into your blood."

The ocean got into Lattanzi's blood as a young boy. Each summer, he would visit Maine, where his family still has a summer home, and spend his days sailing. He forged a relationship with the water that has only grown as the years have passed.

After he graduated from high school in 1991, Lattanzi attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where he earned a bachelor's degree in marine science and an officer's commission in the Coast Guard. If his adolescence provided him with a love for the ocean, the academy helped him realize the importance of protecting it. Lattanzi had a chance to do this as a boarding officer aboard the medium endurance cutter Diligence.

Charged with performing search-and-rescue missions, enforcing U.S. fisheries, customs and immigration laws and stopping international drug traffickers, the Diligence plied the waters of the Caribbean, intercepting vessels suspected of illegal activities. Once a suspicious vessel was intercepted, boarding teams would be transported to the vessel to conduct armed searches.

Lattanzi's training for these complicated and sometimes-dangerous missions ranged from having pepper spray applied to his eyes so that he knew how to defend himself and maintain his weapon during an attack to undergoing an intensive two-year commercial vessel inspection training program at the Marine Safety Office in the Puget Sound.

Following a two-year tour aboard the Diligence, Lattanzi was stationed in Seattle, where he learned the U.S. and international laws governing the construction, operation and inspection of commercial vessels that operate in U.S. waters. Then he was transferred to the Marine Safety Office on Guam, where he served as assistant chief of inspections for the port of Guam. While serving in Guam, Lattanzi was accepted to the Coast Guard's postgraduate training program and applied to Tufts' School of Engineering in 2000.

Before coming to Tufts, Lattanzi was faced with a problem common among graduate students: He needed a place to live. While in Guam, Lattanzi spent an exorbitant sum on rent. Reluctant to revisit this experience, Lattanzi figured he had only one viable option back on the mainland: "When I moved to Boston, I wanted to build equity in something instead of renting an apartment. I wasn't willing to buy a house since I would only be in the area for two years," Lattanzi says. "So I talked to some friends who owned boats in the Boston area and they referred me to a yacht broker."

Lattanzi bought a 38-foot motor yacht, now docked in Charlestown, and he lives there year-round. Living on a boat, he says, offers lifestyle and travel opportunities that aren't available to many graduate students. Lattanzi enjoys taking classmates and friends from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering out cruising to some of the Boston Harbor islands and to restaurants along the city shoreline.

A typical day for Lattanzi begins with breakfast in the galley and includes classes and field work at ponds and lakes across Massachusetts to conduct research for his master's thesis on which he is collaborating with Valerie Monastra, a graduate student in urban and environmental policy and planning. They are testing water and sediments in ponds and lakes to ascertain the long-term effects of arsenical herbicides applied to these bodies of water during the 1950s and 1960s.

Lattanzi suspects that arsenic contained in pond sediments is released into the water in late summer. If their work reveals that arsenic is re-entering the water, then scientists can take the next logical step—studying life in those ponds to see if it has been negatively affected by the herbicides.

While Lattanzi's research takes him away from the ocean, it does fit his goal of making the waters of the world safe for people, plants and animals. Once he completes his graduate degree in May 2003, Lattanzi will head to the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he will work in the Marine Safety Office of Response to prevent and mitigate oil and hazardous materials spills in U.S. ports.

While there is plenty of work to be done before graduation, Lattanzi still finds time to head out to sea. As he says, it's in his blood. And besides, when the ocean is your home, there's always a new room to visit.

Robert Bochnak covers the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for the Tufts Journal.