As a child, Katelyn Denby loved being outdoors and surrounded by nature near her hometown of Edwardsville, Ill.
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“I chose S&T because it has a lot more to offer to students than other, larger engineering schools,” Denby explains. “It has a great environmental program and is known for its graduate placement.”
Today, as a senior in environmental engineering, Denby has kept her passion for the environment alive in both her academic and social circles — even bringing it home, as a resident of the Solar Village, a neighborhood of four solar houses designed and built by S&T students.
“I participate in monthly activities with the other Solar Village tenants to help raise awareness on campus of environmental topics,” says Denby, president of Eco Miners, a group of students interested in building a sustainable future. She was previously director of finance for the Solar House Team, which constructed the Chameleon House for the Department of Energy 2013 Solar Decathlon.
“Our student design teams are great ways to get involved and meet new people,” she adds.
Working under the direction of Daniel Oerther, the John and Susan Mathes Chair of Environmental Engineering, Denby is studying how to fight obesity and poverty. She has looked at ways to optimize gardening by developing a decision-making tool to find the most economic watering system, type of soil and best nutritional balance based on geographic regions.
With this information, Denby and several other students traveled with Oerther to India in December 2012 for a two-week research trip. They focused on nutrition and wellness strategies and tested water samples at well sites.
“The group I led surveyed farmers on farming practices, including use of fertilizer, vegetable rotation and water sources, among other topics,” Denby says. “From what we learned, we tried to optimize their crop rotation to replenish some of the key nutrients naturally.”
This past summer, Denby worked with Oerther to develop a new research plan that focuses on food and nutrition as a way to combat hunger and obesity. As part of that research, she’s creating a food policy council in Rolla to address some of the issues in this community, researching grant opportunities and launching a three-part movie series to raise awareness about the issues.
“This research project ties together all of the issues environmental engineers face,” Denby says. “If you have access to clean water and sanitation, but don’t have access to good food, then you’ll still struggle with being healthy. This is an issue that I think has been overlooked by many, so I’m looking forward to making a difference with my work.”
Denby hopes to adapt the project to larger cities for her master’s degree.
“I love my environmental classes,” Denby says. “It’s so exciting to feel like I’m learning something that I not only will be able to use in my near future, but also something that I can use to help make a difference.”