The be culturally appropriate and therefore sustainable. In

The first time I left the country, it was not for vacation, but to see a wastewater treatment
plant. In the summer of 2016, I traveled to Rwanda, where I collaborated with a wastewater
treatment plant that turns fecal sludge into solid fuel. I worked on improving their sustainable
process and implementing a water treatment process I have researched since my first year at Penn
State. Working in a much different country inspired me to continue research and toward my ultimate
goal to work as an environmental engineer on the Global Grand Challenge of improving access to
clean water. In order to achieve this goal, I plan to obtain a PhD in Environmental Engineering
research at Yale.
I am currently a civil engineering student at Penn State with a minor in environmental
engineering working on research related to sustainable water treatment. As a first-year student, I
approached a research faculty, asking to learn more about her research and potentially join her
research team. Since then, under the leadership of Dr. Stephanie Velegol, I have worked for 12
hours a week on a water purification technology using the seeds of the Moringa oleifera tree to create a
sustainable filter that can clean water in developing countries around the world. The tree, which
grows naturally in many areas that lack access to clean water, has seeds that contain a cationic
antimicrobial protein with water purification properties. I apply these properties of the seed to a
sand filter that can remove microbes from water. The method shows promise, but must be altered
to be culturally appropriate and therefore sustainable.
In May 2016, I even traveled to Rwanda to do research in a real-world setting where
Moringa oleifera grows. This experience gave me a sense of how this technology might be applied in
various places around the world. When I traveled to Rwanda, I realized that many Rwandans do not
drink clean water, and it is commonplace to get water-borne illnesses. Even though humans know
how to purify water in many different ways, these methods are not effective in areas such as Rwanda
due largely to socioeconomic factors. While I have been very lucky to have constant access to clean
water, a sustainable water filter could directly benefit people in areas with poor or limited drinking
water. Because of my research, I want to work to make sure that issues of water purification and
water management are reduced and, perhaps one day, removed entirely. Many questions remain,
including how this method can be incorporated into various communities around the world. A
multidisciplinary approach to the problem of water insecurity is needed to successfully introduce a
new technology to areas with many different cultures, societies, and influences.
My lab experiments require that I research previous work, compare results to theoretical
models, and communicate my results through reports, presentations and posters. We are currently
working on submitting a paper to be published this fall that details the modeling of the filter and the
calculations that allow for scale-up; my role in this entails obtaining needed repeat trials of data for
the paper, academic literature review, and assisting with the write-up and review of the paper. I
presented this research on the filter modeling in April of 2017 at the Environmental Chemistry and
Microbiology Student Symposium, where I received First Place Undergraduate Oral Presentation. In
addition, as a member of Penn State’s Honors College, I will write an honors thesis that condenses
the research I have worked on over the past three years. This research has taught me a lot about both working individually and also collaborating in a
team. I was able to work independently on developing a microscope procedure for effectiveness of
moringa-coated sand, taking the research in multiple directions and contacting different experts to
confirm my work. On the other hand, I have also worked in groups, collaborating closely to churn
out experiment after experiment, running many repetitive trials in order to obtain data replicates.
I have worked with graduate students, undergraduate students, and professors, along with
other experts in fields relating to this research. I have even gained experience training other
undergraduates in complex lab procedures. When I taught a new researcher how to create and run
water with model microbes through Moringa-coated sand columns, I had to quickly learn how to
divide complex instructions into very simple tasks, which helps to reduce errors. I also learned that
staying calm, even if the trainee makes a mistake, is the best way to teach someone to learn from
that mistake. I have not only become a better teacher by mentoring undergraduates, but I have also
become less critical of myself if I make a mistake in the lab.
Working on this research project has changed me in other ways. When I got the data back
from my first experiment, it was the opposite of what I had expected. At first, I thought I had mixed
up the labels on each sample! But I realized that, contrary to when one fails a test, a failed
experiment is an opportunity to learn and discover something new. My first experiment, which I
initially dubbed a failure, was what actually helped me discover that the protein in Moringa seeds
dissolves rather quickly, before flocculating and settling out of the solution. This breakthrough
allowed me to shorten the needed time to dissolve the protein in solution, therefore reducing the
creation time of Moringa-coated sand by 50%.
Studying environmental engineering at Yale would allow me to pursue the research that I
find most interesting, and would provide me access to the resources that will allow me to learn from
and contribute to the field of environmental engineering and water treatment. In addition, this
experience would further prepare my research and engineering skills, and would provide me
substantial experience for a future career working on water treatment, water resource management,
and water purification for the many communities around the world who lack access to our most
precious resource.