When Christina Abate says she wants to use her engineering skills to have a positive impact on others, she isn’t just stating a long-term career goal. The senior’s work has already made a difference in the lives of people in Honduras and Queens.
“I think sustainable engineering is becoming important and people are starting to see why with climate change and different environmental, social and political issues,” the 22-year-old from Orange County said. “This is something that’s really important to me. I’m passionate about it.”
In the summer of 2011, the mechanical engineering major traveled to Honduras with other Binghamton University students to build a water sanitation and distribution system for a rural community. As a senior, Abate became the project manager for the second phase of the operation: developing a way to get rid of the dirty water now that clean water is coming in. Travel restrictions have prevented Abate and her team from returning to Honduras, but they plan to complete the project by sending their translated designs to contacts in the country.
“Our goal now is to complete the project without even going there, which I think is even harder,” she said. “You have to be extremely detailed in everything you do.”
Abate used the Honduras work as the foundation of a research project called “Sustainable Engineering in Research Education and Practice.” She examined the Honduras operation and determined what aspects are sustainable and where improvements could take place. In February, Abate not only presented her research at the 2012 Emerging Researchers National Conference in Atlanta, but she won first place in the oral presentation category for mathematics and science education.
There is more to engineering than designs, Abate said, emphasizing communication and cooperation.
“When people think about sustainable engineering, they think about windmills and solar panels,” she said. “They don’t think about other aspects, such as society and culture. I always stress that it’s important to have a community’s acceptance and approval and an open line of communication between both parties. If you just walk into a community and build something without educating the people, it’s not likely that they will use the system − or they might not know how to maintain it.”
Being a student in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program and vice president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) has helped shape Abate.
“SHPE turned me into the kind of professional I need to be in a workforce and LSAMP has helped me learn how to conduct research and speak with my professors,” she said. “They’ve really helped contribute to my success here.”
That success is no surprise to Daryl Santos, professor of systems science and industrial engineering and SHPE faculty advisor.
“The thing that stands out about her to me is that she is a leader,” Santos said. “Going to Honduras wasn’t an academic requirement. She and the others did it because they wanted to. Her leadership skills have continued to flourish and grow.”
In 2010, Abate spent the summer as an intern for Solarias, Inc., and helped developed a solar-panel system for the LeFrak City apartment complex in Queens. More than 14,000 residents benefited from her work. Abate will return to the New York City area after graduating in May, to work as an engineer with Turner Construction Company in Manhattan. Abate hopes to work on LEED-certified buildings and eventually get a master’s degree in sustainable engineering.
Abate said she has grown “vertically and horizontally” during her time at Binghamton University.
“When you are going through life, you walk a vertical path and you can choose to look outward to the sides and collect as much as you can while moving forward,” she said. “I definitely did that. I’m happy I came to Binghamton. I’ve met an amazing group of people who are inspiring individuals and I’ve enjoyed all of my activities and hands-on projects.”