Professional Spotlight: Maya Kutz

Since graduating from Smith College earlier this year, former ESW-Smith president Maya Kutz has been working as a laboratory technician in Dr. Philson Warner's aquaponics research lab at the Cornell University Cooperative Extension in New York City. Still an emerging technology, aquaponics is a type of urban agriculture that combines hydroponics and aquaculture, or fish farming. The key benefits of this symbiotic cycle are the water filtration the plants provide the fish, which, in turn, provide fertilization for the plants. Maya's involvement in internships, self-teaching, and ESW helped lead her to this innovative career path and beyond as she continues on her career journey.

Maya started with ESW as a first-year and by her second year already had a board position as Artistic Director, followed by Vice President her Junior year, and President during her Senior year. As a member of a chapter which has seen fantastic growth and dedication, Maya helped to make sure the chapter ran smoothly. In addition to her board member duties, Maya worked on ESW-Smith's Sunny Days Solar Charger, a photovoltaic laptop charging station located outside on campus. While this project fell within the bounds of Maya's academic course focus in renewable energy, she spent much of her free time learning about hydroponics and aquaponics.

Through self-motivation, YouTube videos, and textbooks, Maya learned about aquaponics to the point she had her own hydroponics setup in her dorm room! Despite aquaponics being a very specialized field, Maya was able to obtain an internship through connections with a former high school teacher. Through ESW, Maya taught workshops to introduce other Smith College students to hydroponics and brought her internship supervisor to campus to speak about their research and expose more students to the field of hydroponics. With a solid foundation in hydroponics, Maya decided to explore the aquaculture side of aquaponics and found her current position in research lab. As a lab technician, she is responsible for maintaining the lab's equipment and ensuring high quality research results. As with many other young professionals, Maya learns more about her field every day and hopes to eventually design aquaponics systems of her own.

Maya's advice for somebody who wants to specialize in one of the more niche branches of sustainable engineering is to self-teach as much as possible with information found online or in books. Her internship provided a very valuable learning experience and recommends finding professors conducting research in a related field and asking if there are any summer internship opportunities. Like in her field, much of what can be learned about certain engineering fields can be best obtained on the job. Maya's self-motivation allowed her to find a job in the field she wanted, despite not having access to many of the resources available for more mainstream technologies in sustainable engineering. In Maya's case, the work she did to learn as much as she could on her own gave her the boost and confidence to continue aquaponics as a profession. College gives us the tools to figure out the career path we want to take, but some students need to put more effort to break into their desired field. As Maya has proven, with a little determination, it can be done.

Having followed her passion, Maya continues to find time outside of work to pursue her other interests. Her current project is starting up a professional chapter in New York City! Maya is planning an introductory meeting next month in NYC. If you would like to form part of the budding NYC professional chapter, please contact Erin Rose Briggs at erbriggs@eswusa.org from the National Team to be put in contact with Maya!

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