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NDSU environmental engineering student says now is her time ‘to finally make an impact’

Kira Eliason talks NDSU, shares her passion for the environment and her future career.

Kira Eliason
Kira Eliason, a sophomore in the environmental engineering program at North Dakota State University, says she has always been interested in helping the environment and is looking forward to starting a career where she can do just that as an environmental engineer.
Image: Courtesy of Two Pines Photography
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Kira Eliason years ago became troubled about the reports she was hearing of Mother Earth and humankind’s relationship to it.

She knew there was a direct bearing on how people treat their home planet and climate change. It’s a shared world, after all, and everyone must do their part.

Of added concern, Eliason one day she would raise her own family. But what could she do to help make the world a better pl;ace for them? What part could she play?

She found her answer when North Dakota State University started an environmental engineering program in fall 2020. She decided to enroll, setting her on a path to explore career possibilities helping the environment.

“I was trying to decide what kind of impact I wanted to make on the world,” she said, referring to when she was in high school. She was good at English and math, but didn’t know that she wanted to pursue those skills as careers. “But then I heard about NDSU starting this program and it’s like it was meant to be. … This is my chance to finally make an impact in the way I want to impact the world.”

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Eliason, a sophomore who anticipates graduating in 2024, said she’s still deciding what line of environmental engineering she will focus on as a career, but she is interested in both research and consulting work.

Originally from Bismarck, Eliason said she likes the NDSU campus in Fargo and said the program, which is still new and attracting students, isn’t intimidating. It allows her more one-on-one instruction with her professors and she doesn’t feel like she gets lost in the shuffle of many students.

She said her instructors have been exceptional, and mentioned a couple of them by name. Dr. Kelly Rush is “really amazing. She's a really brilliant woman,” Eliason said, noting Rush helped her hone her thinking about why she, Eliason, “wanted to do this” line of study. “She just has so much passion for the environmental engineering fields and disciplines.”

Eliason, who is interning at Apex Engineering Group this summer in Bismarck, served as an undergraduate research assistant for another member of the engineering faculty, Dr. Syeed Iskander

“He's amazing too,” she said. “He mainly works in microplastics and wastes, which is what I'm kind of interested in, and so it's a really great opportunity that I'm so happy and grateful for.”

Environmental engineers focus on the interactions between humans and the environment, Rush explained, and integrate and apply biological, chemical, and engineering principles to improve and sustain the environment for the protection of its ecosystems and human health.

“Our work is directly related to the public and environmental health and well-being, which has a significant impact on decision making and planning processes,” she said.

Rush said of Eliason: “She is very conscientious in both the classroom and outside. She strives to fully understand all concepts and is proactive in asking probing questions. She sought out undergraduate research opportunities and currently worked in Dr. Syeed Iskander’s lab. This has allowed her to apply the theory and concepts learned in the classroom to real world environmental problems. This combination of classroom learning with hands-on application positions has prepared Kira well for future employment and/or graduate school. She is further expanding her hands-on learning through an internship this summer.”

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Kira Eliason
Image: Courtesy of Kira Eliason

Eliason said she is excited about her internship. She is excited to learn more in the field and, hopefully, start making a difference.

Eliason said she understands that environmental topics, including climate change, can be controversial topics to explore, especially in today’s often contentious political climate – as well as living in a state with a lot of natural resources, namely oil production. But all she wants to do is help the environment.

“It’s not the kind of thing that I talk about at family dinners or big family meetings,” she said. “But at NDSU it's a bit different. Having all these like-minded people here in one spot, gives people (the understanding) that climate change has a broader viewpoint. I am surrounded by people who are very passionate about environmental issues. There’s a lot of people who care about it.”

Besides her class studies, Eliason is involved with the Grand Challenge Scholars program, Society of Women Engineers, NDSU's Philosophy Club, and the Green Bandanna Project.

“I am only a member of SWE, but it is nice to be part of a community of engineering students who have similar experiences,” she explained. “The Green Bandanna Project is a program to help support those struggling with mental health issues. You attach a green bandanna to your backpack or bag to let others know that it is OK to reach out and talk to you if they are struggling.”

In her spare time, which seems to be a luxury as busy as she is, she likes to read and write fictional stories. It’s a way for her to decompress from the daily grind and to tap another set of creative skills. Her passion, however, remains with the environment and she is excited to start a career that she hopes will help improve it.

“It's not more difficult than I expected; it is difficult in a way I didn't expect,” she said of her studies, noting the daily grind is demanding. “It takes a lot more discipline than I thought.”

Eliason recommends NDSU because “it's just a great school,” she said. Students in the environmental engineering program receive “a lot of one-on-one time with the professors and are able to get to know classmates really well. It may be difficult, but it's really fulfilling. Every day you go to school knowing that you're working towards things you really care about and can change. Even if it's difficult, it's worth the hard work.”

Andrew Weeks is an award-winning journalist who has reported for a number of newspapers and magazines. He currently is the editor of Prairie Business, the premier business magazine of the northern plains. The magazine covers various industries and business topics in the Dakotas and western Minnesota.
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