Adam Nayak, '22
Global engagement: Engineering solutions for sustainability
Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated with water. I grew up four blocks from Johnson Creek, a local stream in southeast Portland, Oregon. My mom took me down to the park to play in the water, letting the currents wrap around my legs as I searched for tadpoles and capered with dragonflies.
Each month, my family would wake up early in the morning to work with our local watershed council, removing invasive species, planting native species, and picking up trash around the stream.
It was here that my younger sister and I learned about the great salmon migration. I remember being fascinated with the fish: their perseverance, determination, and tenacity, traversing upstream to their birthplace to continue their lineage. As a boy, I was always searching for salmon, but as an urban stream, Johnson Creek faced serious water-quality challenges due to a history of pollution, and I was never able to find any fish.
As I grew older, I developed an interest in the science behind water treatment and ecological systems, looking for solutions to problems of contaminated stormwater and habitat loss. Volunteering with the Johnson Creek Watershed Council was one of my most rewarding experiences, instilling in me a value for public service and community engagement that has grown with me at Stanford.
Through my involvement in Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), a Cardinal Commitment student organization, I have been able to pair my interest in environmental conservation with engineering practice. In particular, I worked on a small team of students during a two-quarter Cardinal Course to design and prototype sustainable infrastructure solutions in Chavín de Huántar, Perú, an archaeological site in the Andes Mountains. Through the Cardinal Quarter program, I traveled to Perú with my team this past summer to implement the project and promote cultural conservation.
Our green roofs and modular tensile structures were designed as a new approach to flood mitigation in a rural setting, with a focus on aesthetic integration of roofing structures at a culturally significant site. This opportunity not only strengthened my Spanish language and communication skills, it allowed me to collaborate with engineers and community members, as well as to learn about engineering practices in the context of a different culture and setting.
Service is powerful to me because it establishes a sense of community and belonging. As a student who is passionate about equity and inclusion, I hope to work on sustainability projects in diverse communities worldwide. The experience in Perú has enhanced my ability to collaborate on a team that spans cultural backgrounds and has reaffirmed my passion for public service projects.
Now as a sophomore, I co-lead international ESW projects focused on sustainable engineering and equitable development. They have brought me back to the theme of water, leading a project with community partners in Ghana focused on organic waste mitigation and water treatment through biochar production for carbon filtration.
For me, service involves building relationships and working collaboratively, whether internationally with an organization like el Ministerio del Cultura de Perú, or locally with the Johnson Creek Watershed Council. Both experiences involved a long-term commitment to addressing community needs. From these experiences, I have come to focus on promoting equitable access to resources for all communities, regardless of background. Looking forward, I hope to continue my work in sustainable development as an environmental engineer, focusing on clean water and equity practices in the public sector.