Undergraduate Student Spotlight: Katherine Li

By Sua Cho ’24

We are spotlighting Duke University Pratt School of Engineering student stories in an effort to share the many paths that can be taken. Read below for a transcript of an interview with Civil Engineering senior, Katherine Li.

What is your major?

I’m majoring in Civil Engineering on the environmental and water resources track.

What drew you into this major?

I’m a solution seeker who’s really passionate about protecting the environment. I’m interested in the scientific and technological solutions we can develop to address the environmental problems, so I decided that environmental engineering was perfect for me.

What is unique about your major?

Katherine Li, Civil Engineering senior

I think Civil Engineering at duke especially encourages you to take a lot of different classes, for example, engineering economics, data science, machine learning, and solid mechanics, that give you a breadth of knowledge preparing you for a variety of career options.

What is the most challenging part about your major?

I would say there’s definitely a lot of homework. Much of the Civil Engineering coursework is computational, so there’s a lot of coding and data analysis involved, which can be challenging sometimes.

Is there any advice to students who might be considering your major?

Because the Civil Engineering department at Duke is pretty small, I would recommend reaching out to professors. All the CE professors will be very responsive since there’s really not that many students in the major. You can build strong relationships with them, do research, and so on. So don’t hesitate to reach out and make connections!

What are the typical career options for students with your major?

A lot of students go on to work as engineers at civil and environmental engineering firms, and some go into financial and engineering consulting. Many students on the environmental engineering track also go into careers in sustainability and environmental science. There’s also a fair number of students who further their academic career and get their Ph.D.s, which is personally what I want to do.

What extracurriculars are you doing that will be helpful for your career?

Several other students and I have started a non-profit organization called Operation Climate, which was born out of a Bass Connections program. This project is about creating an environmental educational media, such as videos, podcasts, art, and graphics, to teach young people like high schoolers how to best approach and communicate climate issues in a creative way. Through this project, I’ve had a lot of experience speaking to and interviewing some world-renowned climate scientists, business leaders, and activists. I’m also involved in the American Society for Civil Engineers, which offers a lot of professional development, volunteering and community service opportunities.

What is your plan for the future?

I’m planning to get a Ph.D. in environmental engineering. In the future, I’d really like to do more research about water treatment and how we get rid of pollutants to make sure that the most vulnerable communities are not harmed. Working at an environmental/bio-tech start-up and teaching would both be a dream job for me as well.

What is one thing you want to tell yourself from 5 years ago?

I was such a stressed-out person in high school, so I would say, “trust that everything is going to be fine, and try not to worry about things, because worrying about them is putting yourself through these stressful situations twice. Everything will turn out fine!”

What is one thing you want to tell yourself 5 years from now?

“Stay true to your morals. First figure out what you really stand for, then make sure you stay true to that so you don’t unintentionally hurt the people you want to advocate for.”

By Stacia Solomon (she/hers)
Stacia Solomon (she/hers) Associate Director, Career Readiness Stacia Solomon (she/hers)