Undergraduate Kathryn Otte Zeroes in on Sustainability

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Sustainability and an appreciation of nature permeates almost everything Kathryn Otte does. “Growing up, my family was very into the outdoors,” reflected the third-year in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). “And my mom recycled everything and would go around the house turning off the lights.”

This influence, and a high school environmental science class, led Otte to understand sustainability as managing the Earth’s resources so they are available in the future. Such a mindset naturally led to her ISyE major, where she has studied how to make renewable energies more efficient, and to her minor in sustainable cities, where she has examined the social and economic aspects of sustainability, especially here in Atlanta.

“I’m trying to get the big picture and understand the details of the issues. I like looking at problems holistically,” she said.

Last semester, Otte was nominated by the ISyE academic office to attend the Naval Academy Science and Engineering Conference. This gave her the chance to learn about sustainability as applied to national security and defense, which she hopes to make her career focus. For example, what will happen to naval bases on the coasts when sea levels rise? What happens when an extreme weather event – like a tsunami or wildfire – impacts a country and depletes its resources, increasing instability? 

She came back from the conference even more motivated to dedicate her time and studies to sustainability. Otte is involved with SGA’s campus services committee working to make Tech’s dining services as sustainable as possible. She also has a personal project to identify options for providing information about and appropriate containers for recycling in dorms. Next year, she plans to focus her Senior Design project on an aspect of sustainability in Atlanta and, eventually, to pursue a graduate degree in a field like sustainable engineering.

Otte definitely practices what she preaches.

“I try to make sure what I do personally is as efficient as possible. I switch off lights in empty classrooms and unplug appliances when they’re not in use,” she said, laughing. “I always carry a reusable water bottle and reusable bags for shopping. I combine shopping trips, and if I’m visiting out-of-town friends, I’ll take Megabus or carpool instead of driving alone. I spend as much time out-of-doors as I can. It’s the little things.

"And of course, I’m trying to direct my studies and my career toward these issues so I can make as big an impact as possible – to get people to understand that their individual choices can make a difference and to get organizations I’m in to care about these things too.”


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