Student Profile: Naomi Ray, Atlanta, GA
Water in the West
After completing a BLC summer internship with the Washington Water Trust, Stanford senior Naomi Ray says she wants to pursue a career working on water issues.
By Alex Kekauoha
Stanford senior Naomi Ray left her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, in 2018 to enroll at Stanford, which she chose because of its proximity to Silicon Valley.
“I wanted to get into tech,” Ray said. “And I wanted to be in a new place and be uncomfortable and have new experiences.”
Ray chose to major in chemical engineering, but has also enjoyed studying the social sciences and history. An environmental history course on water justice helped spark her interest in that topic, and she’s since had three jobs working on water-related issues. Among them is a BLC-sponsored internship with the Washington Water Trust (WWT), a nonprofit organization working to conserve water in Washington State.
Ray said that working with the WWT helped her narrow her professional interests. She also hopes other students will consider the internship as they think about which direction to take their careers after Stanford.
“I definitely recommend this internship to students, especially those in engineering majors who are interested in a nontraditional engineering career,” she said.
Although known for its rainy climate, Washington State is not without its water and environmental challenges. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, over the last decade, the state has incurred billions of dollars in costs due to natural hazards, including droughts. Concurrently, rising temperatures have resulted in less snowpack in the mountains, and therefore less runoff into streams. With water supply decreasing and demand rising, there’s growing concern among many stakeholders – including the WWT – about the state’s water supply.
“The Trust works to make sure there’s enough water flowing year-round for people and communities, as well as for fish, plants and other wildlife to survive,” Ray said. “They do this by forming relationships with landowners, watershed organizations, local governments and others who use the water.”
Part of that work involves tracking how water is distributed and used, and potentially purchasing rights to water. As the WWT’s water innovation intern, Ray worked on several projects, such as assessing water rights. That project involved the use of satellite-mapping software that provides various data points for a particular region, such as land ownership, water usage, and measurements of river and stream flow.
“If the land was dry because the property owner hadn’t been using it, then we’d reach out to try to buy the water rights from them,” Ray said.
Another project involved making a directory of farmers in Seattle who practice dry farming, a water-saving crop production method that utilizes soil moisture rather than irrigation. She also helped with the WWT’s efforts to get regional landowners, including a Native American tribe, to reduce the number of trees that they cut down.
The internship – which lasted from June through August – is usually completed at the WWT in Ellensburg, Washington, where interns frequently conduct fieldwork. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ray had to work remotely from her home in Atlanta.
“My colleagues at the Trust were very accommodating to my schedule by letting me set my hours,” she said. “So it worked out really well.”
Ray said that the internship taught her about the difficulties of conserving water while managing its usage among many stakeholders with varied interests. She’s also impressed with the way that conservationists, like those at the WWT, are tackling the problem.
“The issues around water usage and conservation are so complicated, but organizations like the Washington Water Trust are really trying to be innovative in solving these and other problems that stem from climate change,” she said.
As she wraps up her time as a Stanford undergrad and begins thinking about potential career paths, Ray said she wants to ultimately do similar problem-solving work that organizations like the WWT do.
“I definitely see myself working with water,” she said. “I want to use my engineering skills as a consultant for the government or a nonprofit, doing innovative work that helps solve the crux of water or engineering challenges.”
For more information about BLC-sponsored internship opportunities, including with the Washington Water Trust, visit the BLC internship webpage.