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Graduate Student Spotlight: Savanna Smith

Savanna Smith

Savanna Smith is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate with a concentration in environmental engineering. Her research looks at how and why microbial communities form the way they do in engineered bioreactors. She grew up in Kealakekua, Hawaii, and Rockport, Texas, and is advised by Glenn E. and Phyllis J. Futrell Distinguished Professor #2 and Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor Francis de los Reyes. Smith is involved with NC Safewater, a student group associated with NC One Water and the national American Water Works Association and Water Environment Federation groups.


What influenced you to go into engineering?

SMITH (S): I really enjoyed math and science growing up. The only career with math that I really knew about was accounting until my high school math teacher mentioned that I should look into engineering. It was right around the same time I watched a documentary about water desalination, and I was mesmerized with the idea of making clean water. I love getting to solve real-world problems for the public using science and math.


What problem(s) are you trying to solve? Why was NC State / CCEE a good fit for you?

S: The big problem I’m trying to solve is to clean poop water better, for everyone. CCEE is a great fit for me for many reasons. First, I love the problems I get to work on here and the people that I work with. I’ve learned so much from the faculty and my peers here. Our department culture is unmatched: Professors clearly enjoy working together, graduate students are friendly and always willing to help each other out, and professors treat graduate students as future peers and collaborators.


Where did your passion for this particular focus come from?

S: Growing up in Hawaii, there was a big focus culturally on environmental sustainability and protecting the land and water we use. This focus — plus growing up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and then later living on the Gulf Coast in Texas — gave me a really strong care for our water. Biology can seem like magic sometimes, so it’s really rewarding to get to be a poop water magician.


Where do you see yourself in five years?

S: I see myself continuing to work at the intersection of microbiology and sanitation. I’m not sure what path I want to take yet. I could see myself as either a teaching professor or in a research position at a national lab or at a water/ wastewater biotechnology company.