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Sarah Torhan

Water Resources Engineering PhD Candidate, Penn State University

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With a STEM background, you can be anyone who you want to be.

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I study the complex interactions between food-energy-water (FEW) systems and seek to understand the equity or disparities in the governance of natural resources. I also look into evidence of adaptation of FEW systems as a result of climate change or FEW insecurity.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I was formerly a chemical engineer working in the medical industry when I realized that my real passions lied in engineering for positive social and environmental impacts. I left industry to work in grassroots environmental conservation in South America for a few years, where I saw great inequity on a global scale of natural resource exploitation affecting the livelihood of rural communities. COVID-19 sent me back to the US, where I now plan to use academia as an avenue to engineer as a steward of environmental conservation and equity of marginalized populations.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I wish that my undergraduate curriculum included a strong focus on engineering ethics and showing how engineering is inherently embedded in society. Sometimes we treat engineering and the sciences as a purely technical, separate entity and use that as an excuse to not consider the politics and social impacts behind it. It is critical that every engineer accept and engage in the political, social, and environmental impact that their work may have and strive for ethical outcomes.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I have so many questions about how the world works and why things are the way they are. STEM not only allows me to search for answers to those questions, but also it is how I find purpose and feel that I can promote positive change in the world.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

STEM is not just technical. With a STEM background, you can be anyone who you want to be. You can focus deep and technical or you can look broad and transdisciplinary. There is also growing importance of integration of the arts in STEM (STEAM), especially in modes of science communication. STEM backgrounds are highly valued in all fields.

INSPO / FUN FACT

"Great acts are made up of small deeds" - Lao Tzu