By Naeisha Rose
Earlier this month, the New York Water Environment Association, a non-profit organization made up of water quality management professionals, awarded a $3,000 scholarship to South Richmond Hill resident and graduate student Fazena Bacchus.
Bacchus, 24, is a Guyanese immigrant and first in her family to graduate from college. She was able to pay off all her tuition to Manhattan College Monday for her last semester as she works to obtain her master’s degree in environmental engineering with a concentration in water resource management.
“I was very excited, because any scholarship funding for graduate studies make a difference,” said Bacchus.
She worked on her application for the N.G. Kaul Memorial Scholarship in January, submitted it in February and was waiting on pins and needles for a response.
“I was just anticipating as to whether I would hear back, when that would be, would I get it?” said Bacchus. “When I received aid I was very, very grateful, excited and very happy.”
As soon as she learned through the mail that she received the scholarship in late June, she immediately shared the news with her family, which includes her younger brothers Abid and Atif, who are pursuing mechanical engineering and electrical engineering themselves; and her single father, a goldsmith who brought the family to the United States when she was 5 years old so that his children could have more opportunities.
“Everyone assumes that if you are all engineers, your parents must have done that,” said Bacchus. “It’s the opposite, because we were inspired to do it since we had the opportunities and we were blessed with the education to really pursue what we wanted to do here.”
While attending the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan, Bacchus developed a great interest in ecology, environment and natural science classes and in 2009, she received an internship with the Nature Conservancy in Vermont for the summer.
“I really discovered a passion for conservation, but ultimately I felt that New York City was my home and I did not want to leave it to be able to pursue conservation work in a natural setting, and there is something that I could do, because there is nature all around us and you don’t have to go far to see those ecosystems,” said Bacchus.
When she graduated from high school in 2012, she chose Columbia University to pursue her Bachelor of Science in earth and environmental engineering.
After graduating from Columbia University in 2016, Bacchus worked for a year to save up for her master’s degree at Arcadis, a global engineering and consulting firm.
At Arcadis she worked on resiliency projects to help hospitals in Harlem, Midtown Manhattan, Coney Island and Roosevelt Island that were damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 by aiding in the design of a floodwall that would allow them to be protected and stay operational if another natural disaster occurred.
Between her classes at Columbia geared toward water resources and her experience at Arcadis, Bacchus knew that pursuing an engineering master’s degree focused on water resources and water treatment was what she had to do.
“There is less than 1 percent of accessible fresh water on this Earth,” said Bacchus.
This is a statistic that is confirmed by National Geographic, the global non-profit committed to conservation projects around the world.
“I personally would like to leave my future children and grandchildren a better place than what I lived with,” said Bacchus. “Going forward we need to be more strategic in how we value water.”
The environmental scholarship resulted in Bacchus only paying $80 in tuition and she is expecting to graduate with her master’s degree debt free in December. While most millenials struggle with student loans, she hopes to invest her savings.
“So the money that I get to keep,” Bacchus said with a giggle. “I’ve been thinking about moving out and buying my own home in the future.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose