Adopted from Nepal at an early age, Elizabeth "Libby" McKenna grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but has not lost sight of her roots. She was initiated in 2020 at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she completed a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering and hopes to use her education to make a difference in her home country and abroad by addressing global water issues.
During her service with City Year, an AmeriCorps program, Libby grew to realize that she could use her science background to help disadvantaged populations both domestically and abroad, and she went on to research disinfection by-products in reclaimed water during her graduate studies.
Libby’s long-term goal is to work with a humanitarian organization, such as Engineers Without Borders, and use her skills to solve international water issues. She is employed at Corona Environmental Consulting, a small firm that provides science and data-based services to clients in the water community, as a water process engineer.
Let’s get to know Libby!
Why did you accept the invitation to join Phi Kappa Phi?
Phi Kappa Phi is validation of my hard work and academic achievements, and I was honored to be extended an invitation to join. The Society has many great opportunities that I can benefit from, including networking and scholarships.
What is one word your friends would use to describe you?
Curious. I frequently find new hobbies or activities that I get excited about, and then try to get my friends interested as well. Some examples include houseplants, improv, coding, yoga and investing.
What are your biggest long-term goals?
With climate change consequences accelerating, I want to make sure our water resources are preserved, especially for communities who are taking the brunt of climate change. To me, this means making sure technologies like potable reuse are accessible to disenfranchised communities, not just installing these facilities in wealthy areas.
What motivates you to succeed?
I want to help people who have not had the opportunities I have had.
What are your favorite hobbies?
I enjoy researching and investing in companies, as well as keeping up with social justice issues and activism. These hobbies are interlinked as they require paying attention to current events and figuring out how I want to spend my money, time and emotional energy. I also enjoy caring for my many houseplants, baking recipes from the British Bake-Off show, and CrossFit.
What characteristic do you most admire in others?
Charisma. Some folks just have a gift to captivate others with stories and inspire people to act. I love listening to these people and try to emulate them so I can connect better with others.
What is the most challenging work you have ever done and how did you rise to the challenge?
The most challenging work was my thesis research and composition. Learning how to ask good research questions and develop experiments was a steep learning curve but I loved doing it. I was surrounded by other knowledgeable and supportive students and faculty who really kept me on track. Finally, writing my thesis was difficult because compiling the data, methods and findings was such a daunting task. I found that tackling each chapter a little at a time made it manageable and less overwhelming. In the end, I enjoyed compiling everything I had done in grad school and I felt strong sense of accomplishment.
Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
I would love to visit Iran. One of my best friends is from there and has exposed me to incredible food, music and culture. I would love to experience their hospitality and centuries-old civilization first-hand.
What is your biggest success up until now?
My biggest success has been to complete my master’s degree and get a job at an incredible consulting firm that works on projects that are aligned with my passions.
What does your perfect day look like?
All I need for a good day is a good balance of food, friends, and alone time. I would begin with a Cross-Fit class to start the day with a sense of accomplishment, followed by a yoga session. Then I would stop by a farmer’s market for some delicious bread and head to a park to share with friends. After a few games and outdoor time, I would head home to bake a dessert and watch a show at the same time. I would then sample my product as I read a book or talked to family on the phone. Finally, I would shower and head to bed feeling content and full.
To learn more about Libby and connect, visit her profile within our online member community, here.
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