Fritz Yambrach, Ph.D.

Faculty | San José

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"My purpose is to give students the skills to lead a meaningful life and earn a living."

Dr. Fritz Yambrach’s invention makes it easier to transport water in developing areas and after disasters. He’s hoping his students at San José State will see how they too can blend a career with philanthropy.  

It’s an image you’ve likely seen before: A weary girl or woman in a developing country carries a heavy bucket of water on her head, trudging for miles down a dusty road from wherever the nearest source of clean water might be. In many countries, girls can spend up to six hours a day collecting water for their families.

“When you see them schlepping around five gallons of water, you think, There’s got to be a better way,” says Fritz Yambrach, Ph.D., professor and director of packaging at San José State University.

The innovative educator knew he could use his 40 years’ experience in packaging design to help, so in 2005, he began making prototypes. He came up with a large, flexible, hermetically sealed pouch that a person could easily slip over his or her head and fill with just over two and a half gallons of water. The design evenly distributed the weight of the water, relieving strain on the head and neck, and was also antimicrobial, reusable and had a device that made it easy to fill the pouch and dispense water.

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Thus, the Fritz Water Vest was born. Since 2006, Ethiopians, Haitians and Burundians have beta-tested the vest. Feedback from those who’d used the vest revealed an unexpected benefit: “Young girls in Ethiopia were typically tasked with collecting water and it often meant they couldn’t go to school,” Yambrach explains. “The vest is allowing more girls to attend school since it makes transporting water much easier.”

Student Success Comes First

When Yambrach arrived at San José State in 2006, he was put in charge of rebuilding the packaging program, part of the College of Health and Human Sciences.

At the time, there were only five students enrolled and just four courses. Yambrach developed 10 courses, including packaging for medical devices, pharmaceuticals and food processing. The curriculum draws directly from his industry experience at ICI Pharmaceuticals, Chrysler and Baxter. There are now 70 students in the program.

“I created course content I believed was useful to a working professional in the field,” Yambrach says. “Packaging is simply problem solving. I’ll give [students] relationships between items and then see how they put it together and make creative extensions.”

SJSU is one of only five schools nationwide to offer a bachelor’s degree in packaging. Yambrach says it provides students with a unique set of skills in a $100-billion-plus-a-year industry.

His proudest accomplishment at SJSU so far was establishing an internship program [for students] at leading companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Amgen. “When they graduate, they will be sought-after,” Yambrach says with confidence. “They will never want for a job for the rest of their lives.”

Inspiring the Next Generation

Slowly but surely, the Fritz Water Vest is gaining recognition. In 2017, it was awarded the DuPont Diamond Award for Packaging Innovation. Together with other experts in the field, Yambrach created Solutions Inc., a nonprofit that aspires to use “packaging technology…to improve the quality of life for all people in the world.”

To scale up distribution and give the vests away at no cost, the company needs a significant donor. “We’re looking for a champion who thinks it’s a good idea,” he says.

In the meantime, Yambrach has certainly impressed one group: his students. And he’s hoping his desire to give back serves as an inspiration. “They’re really proud of me,” he says. 

“The idea is to expose them so they start thinking about what they can do to help. At some point in their careers, they’ll say, ‘We saw Fritz do this, so we can do it, too.’”

“I don’t know what else you want out of this life but to make somebody else’s better.”
 — Dr. Fritz Yambrach


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