When students reflect on their time on campus, many will remember game days, the Ann Arbor winter, and long study hours. LSA senior Keya Patel, however, will remember the many hours she spent working with communities around the world.
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Since her freshman year, Patel has worked with the Better Living Using Engineering Laboratory, a student organization guiding nine team projects using a human-centered sustainable design process to collaborate with communities both local and around the world to work on an identified need. Some of the groups’ previous projects include providing nighttime lighting, organizing education engineering workshops and irrigating fields and farmlands.
Six of the teams are based abroad in communities in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, India, and El Salvador. The teams travel to their partner communities over class breaks throughout the year to help implement their projects.
As BLUElab president this past year, Patel is one of a few team members not studying engineering — she’s earning dual degrees in International Studies and Biology with a minor in Business. Though she was originally a little intimidated, she said collaborating with students from different fields of study has been an important experience.
“Working with the engineers and learning from us is an integral experience because that’s what it will be like in the real world, you’re not just like surrounded by people who are just like you in terms of your academic background,” Patel said. “Having people that are not engineers do provide a lot of benefits. I think people value that too.”
Though as president Patel works with all the BLUElab teams, she first began her involvement as a member and then project leader of BLUElab Sa Nimá Collaborative, a project working to bring nighttime lighting to Samox San Luca, Guatemala. The town currently uses candles for lighting because of limited energy sources. Patel has traveled to the project’s partner community in Guatemala three times.
“That team has definitely been the most meaningful to me in college, even sometimes more so than being President of BLUElab because Sa Nimá is the way that I got into all this work,” Patel said.
Throughout college Patel was also involved with the Ginsberg Student Advisory Board and was a member of the University figure skating team. However, working with BLUElab has become her primary endeavor.
“I’ve dropped everything else that I do just to focus my heart into this and be able to provide as many hours a week into this as possible,” Patel said. “I sometimes wish I could have done everything I used to be doing, but it’s been so worth it to me to put in all this effort into BLUElab and see where it’s gone this past year and helping all our teams as much as I can.”
Engineering junior Katherine Rouen, BLUElab internal vice president, said Patel has been one of the BLUElab’s most transformative presidents and has moved the organization forward throughout her presidency.
“She’s really been someone who has moved BLUElab away from solely implementing technology, and being more about thinking about the end users and the stakeholders that we work with,” Rouen said.
Rouen said Patel worked to meet with each team and reached out to individual team members.
“When she’s involved in something she’s 100 percent there,” said LSA junior Emilee Lewis, a member of Sa Nimá Collaborative. “I feel like that’s the main thing that’s hard to find nowadays. When you have a meeting with Keya, she is 100 percent present and you’re the only thing that matters at that moment.”
Patel said working with BLUElab has been the most valuable experience throughout her time at the University. She said the skills she has harnessed through her leadership within the organization are very translatable to the professional workforce. After graduation, Patel will be working with sales and business strategy for Dropbox.
“Sometimes to me the work I do with BLUElab is so much more valuable than school stuff,” Patel said. “I’ve learned so much more out of BLUElab than I ever think I would have in class and I spend more hours a week doing BLUE lab than studying for my classes. You learn so much out of it, so it’s totally worth it to me in the end.”