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Audrey Wilkes

audrey wilkes headshot
Civil & Environmental Engineering
Graduation Year:
Spring 2018
BDP Certificate:
Environment & Sustainability
"Conducting this research has confirmed my passion for sustainability…rather than narrowing my focus of interest, my research experience has widened it.”

Audrey conducted independent research on the social, economic, and political factors that contribute to renewable energy practices in Texas. This experience exposed her to a variety of disciplinary lenses, including perspectives from natural sciences and social sciences, through which she examined sustainability issues.

Please describe your project and how you came up with the idea.
My individual research project consisted of building a small-scale wind turbine and writing a research paper that analyzed the primary influences and historic growth of wind energy in Texas. I have a particular interest in wind energy, and as a result, I wanted to learn more about how wind turbines function and what influences the growth of the industry in my home state. Of the many things I have learned from this experience, understanding that economics control society was the defining insight.

What was the most rewarding aspect of your Connecting Experience?
Reflection was the most rewarding aspect for me. While I greatly enjoyed learning about wind energy, writing about my overall experience brought many ideas to my attention that I otherwise wouldn’t have perceived. Ultimately, I realized that while my experiences have led me to believe that the most important field of study today is nature, the experiences of others have led them to appreciate other fields of study. In this way, I was reminded of the importance of all the various disciplines. 

In what ways has this Connecting Experience shaped your plans for the future?
Conducting this research has confirmed my passion for sustainability. I have realized that although I find having a civil and environmental engineering degree useful, I do not think that it is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing. Ideally, I would eventually like to pursue a dual master’s degree in environmental policy and sustainability engineering, or even work for an environmental non-profit. However, rather than narrowing my focus of interest, my research experience has widened it. I am now more aware of the various ways I can pursue sustainability.

Discuss the relationship you had with your faculty mentor and how they helped you during this Connecting Experience.
My mentor, Dr. Zoltan Nagy, was very enjoyable to work with. He kept me on track, reminded me to not go on a rampage about conservative politics, and humored me during one of our first meetings by asking if climate change was real. Having a mentor who has always been patient and receptive was very pleasant and encouraging. I could bounce ideas off Dr. Nagy without worrying about sounding dumb because I know that he was simply there to help. I hope that I will find mentors like him in the future.