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CMU Alumna and Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholar Awardee Greta Markey.
CMU Alumna and Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholar Awardee Greta Markey.

Greta Markey Named CMU’s First Stanford Knight-Hennessy Awardee

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Peter Kerwin
University Communications & Marketing

Greta Markey, an alumna of Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering(opens in new window), has been named a recipient of the Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars(opens in new window) award. Knight-Hennessy scholars are provided up to three years of funding to pursue a graduate degree at any of Stanford University’s seven schools.

Originally from Chicago, Markey came to Carnegie Mellon University for undergraduate studies. As the daughter of a computer engineer and an urban planner, she was exposed to the themes of civil engineering and social good from an early age. Her passion has carried into adult life as she has become the first woman in her family to become an engineer.

A double major in civil and environmental engineering(opens in new window) and engineering and public policy(opens in new window), questions of water equity, quality and access have been the core of Markey’s work. As a recipient of a Small Undergraduate Research Grant(opens in new window) at CMU, Markey first explored this subfield by researching potential ways to use biochar-based filters to catch soap chemicals for reuse. She also worked with others in AI and engineering to test if desalination technology(opens in new window) could be improved by redesigning the shapes of filters or pores.

“I think that having so many opportunities to pursue research at Carnegie Mellon not only gave me a tool belt of lab-based, computational, and social science-oriented research skills, but it also showed me that I love doing research and I'm really fulfilled through my involvement with it,” Markey said.

She would also strive to incorporate her passion for international relations and social justice into her work, studying for one semester in Washington, D.C. and providing research assistance(opens in new window) to the Wilson Center(opens in new window) as a part of the Washington Semester program offered by the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Strategy and Technology(opens in new window)

“I really believe in the ability and the potential of research to be action-oriented and have impacts on communities in ways that improve social justice and equity, especially within the engineering space,” Markey said.

Greta Markey conducting fieldwork while pursuing graduate studies.

Greta Markey conducts field work during her graduate studies.

Her academic performance throughout these programs earned her the distinction of being named an Andrew Carnegie Society Scholar(opens in new window) in recognition of her placement among the top 2% of the Class of 2022.

"As long as I have known her, Greta has stood out in terms of her research prowess and her commitment to building more socially just approaches to engineering,” said Richelle Bernazzoli, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholar Development(opens in new window). “She has worked on technical innovations such as low-energy desalination, conducted water research with rural Alaskan households, and led environmental science programs for young learners. The world needs broadly thinking leaders like Greta as we face intensified threats to water security and other environmental challenges. As a Knight-Hennessy Scholar and groundbreaking researcher, Greta will be poised to lead innovation across national and disciplinary boundaries."

Near the end of her studies at CMU, Markey was also awarded a Marshall Scholarship(opens in new window). Less than 50 students are selected for the award each year, and Markey was the fifth in CMU's history to be selected for it, which allowed her to complete a master’s program in environmental and international development at the University of East Anglia in England. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in water science, policy and management at the University of Oxford, which the Marshall Scholarship also funds.

Markey’s dissertation at the University of East Anglia focused on water affordability in rural areas(opens in new window) and was largely inspired by the work of assistant professor Destenie Nock(opens in new window), who focuses on energy justice and equitable power systems. 

“Oftentimes water affordability is measured based on the percentage of your income going toward paying your water bills,” Markey explained. “My question was, what if households are already limiting their water use — taking short showers, flushing their toilet less — because they're financially constrained? And how do these water limiting behaviors hide the burden of unaffordable water prices?”

She said that all of her studies so far, while not limited to engineering, are deeply intertwined and helping her work toward the same goal. “I always wanted to come back into this space of civil engineering and water systems engineering, but I also knew that something I was really passionate about was how we consider equity, social justice and water justice within these spaces.”

Markey attributes her success in receiving this scholarship to the support offered by much of the faculty and staff at Carnegie Mellon University including Nock and professor Kelvin Gregory(opens in new window), who served as her academic adviser.

She credits Bernazzoli as the person most key to her success throughout this process. “Richelle has been absolutely incredible. I don't think that I would have gotten the Marshall Scholarship without her and her office. I think as much as this is for me, it's also a recognition of the work she put in, how much she believed in me, and what future she saw for me that I didn't even see for myself.”

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