Alumni News Detail

Hannah Kushner

Hannah Kushner ’17 was a Lifer at Friends. On campus, Hannah ran on the cross country team and was involved with the FIRST Tech Challenge, Poetry Speaks, and Amnesty International clubs. After graduation, Hannah attended Lehigh University, where she studied environmental engineering and urban policy, with a focus on climate resilient cities. At Lehigh, Hannah was involved in political activities and stormwater management research. After graduating in January 2021, Hannah stayed on at Lehigh to pursue a master’s degree in environmental policy while serving as a Resilience Fellow with the City of Boston. Hannah intends to continue working in local government to develop climate resilient and socially equitable infrastructure. Connect with Hannah or learn more about her work on LinkedIn:
What inspired you to study Engineering?
My teachers at Friends always went out of their way to get me involved in STEM. In the Lower School, Mrs. Ly pulled aside a small group of us to develop independent projects on Scratch and that started an interest in programming that carried me through to graduation in the FIRST robotics program. While I do much less coding in my specialty today, the same design thinking and problem-solving mindset that I used for STEM at Friends allows me to tackle a wide range of social and technical challenges in an effective and satisfying way. I knew that going through an engineering program would help me to continue developing these skills and equip me to go in a lot of different directions moving forward.
Tell us about your passion for the intersection of transportation infrastructure and climate change.
This also started at Friends when I wrote my Extended Essay on ways to address my initial impression that the subway was one big pipe waiting to be filled with water from the next Superstorm Sandy. Transportation is critically involved with both climate mitigation and adaptation activities. The way we get around, the options available to us, and the way in which infrastructure is built and maintained all have impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, this infrastructure is essential to public health and the economy but is old, exposed, and vulnerable to damage from flooding and extreme heat. I knew I wanted to work in this space because policy and design can come together here to give people greater access to transit and climate-friendly active transportation alternatives in a way that is appealing, safe, and reliable. To actually achieve reduced emissions requires a combination of better design and well-thought-out public communications that must address the environment justice issues associated with climate change, land use, and mobility.

What are your expectations for vast improvements in America's report card on infrastructure during the Biden administration?
I recently got involved with the advocacy wing of the civil engineering professional society and was tasked with (virtually) visiting Capitol Hill to present the 2021 Report Card on America’s Infrastructure to Delaware’s elected officials. The country received a C- average but was met with optimism by all these engineers who feel that the Biden administration is going to bring about major improvements to infrastructure. There are a few reasons for optimism: President Biden has been willing to spend trillions of dollars on infrastructure (which is especially impressive considering the joke “infrastructure week” has become in recent years), the administration has expressed interest in making every agency incorporate climate into their decision-making, and cabinet members like Secretary Buttigieg have made very progressive statements such as that our roads must be designed for multi-model transportation and not just cars. Talking to different engineers, we each feel that our niche is having a “moment” right now - be it water, resilience, electrification, walkability, transit, etc. – and there is tremendous energy and growth in the field. While the changes proposed by the Biden administration won’t bring about A’s or even B’s for some time, this is the scale of federal investment and change needed to set us on that trajectory.

What are your favorite WFS memories?
I sometimes still get messages from the Poetry Speaks club about their upcoming meetings and events. Each time I am so happy to see that the club has lived on and is still spreading poetry in the community outside of English class. It’s incredible to think how much we all juggled on any given day at Friends, but I do miss how easy it was to get involved with so many different things before we started getting separated out into majors and careers in college. I miss having the time set aside for cross country, Meeting for Worship, and exploring my various other interests throughout the week. 

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