Engineering and the Environment: A harmonious partnership


Salamat Kanybekova of Kyrgyzstan is a young woman at the forefront of engineering projects designed not just to innovate, but to protect. She believes in a world where respect for nature and the planet's resources is of utmost importance. Through her work, she's not just imagining a future where our technological advancements are in harmony with the environment; she's building it. Salamat's journey is one of passion, dedication, and a profound belief in the power of engineering to solve some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. From creating efficient, sustainable technologies to promoting eco-directional activism, her work is an inspiration for anyone looking to make a difference in the world.


Salamat, could you share what sparked your passion for engineering and, more specifically, for environmental solutions? Is there a moment or experience that stands as a turning point for you?

I actually ended up in engineering by accident! I dreamed of being a journalist since I was 5 years old, and when I first started training for our project, I didn’t understand why I needed to study STEM.

But my motivation began when an engineering academy came to my school and selected a few boys and girls. I was not accepted, because I studied in a class with  Kyrgyz language of instruction, whereas the boys were from the class with Russian language of instruction. I needed to prove to myself that I was just as good - so the next day I went to the academy and I refused to leave until they agreed to let me participate in their project. As part of this project, we identified the biggest problems facing the world: a lack of water and electricity. The girl’s team made a tower power station, and we won second place in the international forum!

This was the motivation I needed - after this experience, I began to work hard on other eco-projects, because I realized that I could really make an impact on the future of the world. 

In your journey as an engineer focusing on the environment, what project are you most proud of, and why? How does this project reflect your approach to solving environmental problems?

I am proud of all my projects, but for me the most special one was the model of the Tourist Center in Kyrgyzstan, because in it I managed to combine new innovative solutions while still preserving our culture and traditions. This particular project helps to fight the problems of lake pollution, air pollution, and poor quality electricity.

Engineering innovative solutions for the environment must come with challenges. What has been a particularly tough problem you faced in your work, and how did you overcome it?

Yes, unfortunately engineering is not without problems. But as for me, solving these problems is a way to generate new ideas to improve our projects, and sometimes even ideas for brand new ones. Last year, right before we were scheduled to defend a major project, the project stopped working. All night long we couldn't figure out what was wrong. We decided to make an animation to demonstrate how it works. Thanks to "Girls in Science" I was able to think critically, and I was able to defend it in words. After presenting the animation, we showed the codes of the project - and we managed to win first place at the Republican Olympiad!

Engineering and environmental activism are fields that greatly benefit from diverse perspectives. How do you ensure inclusivity in your projects and encourage more women and underrepresented groups to take part in engineering?

This is a very interesting question. At the moment, I work as a teacher in a library with rescued books. We work with children from poor families, with children who have no opportunity to go to school, courses, or other educational institutions where they could get additional education. The project also helps single mothers. Volunteers opened a sewing workshop for them where they sew recycled scraps into shoppers, bags, and toys. In turn, we help them to promote their businesses and sell their goods on social networks. The project Girls in Science also helps to provide equal opportunities for girls. At the moment, the project is working in remote areas of Kyrgyzstan, and covers all of the initiatives on social networks to share more widely with the communities they support, since in these areas social media and social networks are the most important sources of information.

On a personal level, how do you incorporate sustainability into your daily life? Are there practices or habits you've adopted that you'd recommend to others?

In everyday life, my family and I sort garbage and make compost. I also teach English on a volunteer basis in the library, which is not far from the landfill, and I try to teach children about eco-thinking and the importance of preserving nature. I would highly recommend sorting garbage, at least plastic and paper. I also aim to avoid overbuying clothing, because fabric cannot be recycled.

Looking ahead, what emerging technologies or innovations are you excited about in the field of sustainable engineering? How do you see them changing our approach to environmental challenges?

At the moment I am very interested in alternative energy. I am currently doing a project in this industry, and it is very interesting to watch in what direction it will develop, as it is an essential key at the moment. After all, the amount of water is decreasing every day - not only in Kyrgyzstan but all over the world, and at the moment it is very difficult to build an efficient CHP to avoid worsening the condition. It would also be interesting to participate in research on garment waste; maybe someday we will be able to find a solution for recycling fabric other than upcycling.

Your work has the potential to inspire a global audience. What message do you have for young engineers around the world who are passionate about making a difference in environmental sustainability?

First of all, for the skeptics: I think it is better to show the results of my work, rather than try to convince them through debate. The proof speaks for itself.

And for those who are feeling inspired and passionate to make a difference, this is great, and innovations are wonderful - but don’t forget about the environment! Ultimately, no matter how cliche it sounds, I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself. Set goals, strive for the best, and remember: the planet relies on us, and we rely on the planet. Our innovations, our solutions, and our ideas should always keep the environment in mind to be applicable, relevant, and sustainable.



Salamat Kanybekova is a member of the STEM4ALL STEMinist network. You can read more inspiring stories, find employment and education opportunities, and discover useful resources by exploring the STEM4ALL platform.