From her very first moments on campus, Cielo Sharkus ’19 knew the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) WPI chapter would be an important part of her life. Serving as NSEB senator in her first year
and president in her junior year, she worked to build and maintain relationships with fellow students of color during her entire university experience. WPI’s NSEB chapter is described as an organization that is “dedicated to the realization of a better tomorrow by developing intensive programs for increasing the recruitment, retention, and academic excellence of minorities in engineering.” Working to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and make a positive impact on the world, the NSEB mission is in complete alignment with WPI’s three towers of theory, practice, and impact.
Staying closely connected to the alumni NSEB group, Sharkus hopes to motivate other first-generation black women to pursue post graduate degrees, saying “The institutional support I received at WPI from alumni mentors was integral to my success, so I want to make sure I give back and continue to expand the pipeline.”
Today, Sharkus is pursuing a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with research focused on large-scale watershed management, hazard management, and environmental injustice. Using social, biological, and geophysical analysis tools to understand the impacts of climate and land-use change on drinking water quality, stormwater runoff, erosion, and quantification of pollutant movement, Sharkus wants to protect disenfranchised populations. By understanding how disenfranchised populations disproportionately experience environmental disasters, such as flooding and post-wildfire drinking water contamination, Sharkus is highlighting the disproportionate rate that these populations experience climate related disasters. Her most recent work is examining how floods induce the transport of hazardous chemicals through soil in low income Massachusetts communities.
Sharkus’ work will help inform emergency management and hazard mitigation, and the impact of her research will be felt for generations to come. When asked about her efforts in the fight against environmental injustice, Sharkus recently credited WPI stating. “My WPI education has taught me to make an opportunity out of every difficulty, and to persevere no matter what! My work heavily draws upon my MQP experience in Switzerland, where I constantly had to improvise and adapt my research.”