JUSTUS SMITH: SEIZING OPPORTUNITIES
Justus Smith, a Junior in Biosystems Engineering at Auburn University, is a rising star. Smith embodies the “Auburn spirit” through his unwavering pursuit of knowledge, desire to explore diverse perspectives, and passion for serving his global community.
Smith has spent most of his life in Alabama surrounded by science and the outdoors: his mother is a conservation educator, his father was a forester for the US Forest Service, and he was a Boy Scout. Early on, Smith found himself impacted by the wise words of another Alabama native and famous ecologist, Dr. E.O. Wilson, so it was no surprise he was considering a career in the sciences, more specifically in engineering. When asked why he chose a major in Biosystems Engineering, Smith responded, “I knew I wanted something multidisciplinary, I wanted to work outside, and I wanted to make a difference.”
Smith installing water supply systems in the field. Photo Credit: Justus Smith
Smith has found ample ways to make that difference through his involvement in the Auburn University Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB). After serving as a team leader for a year, he is now the chapter president working with water filtration and water distribution projects as well as mentoring younger students. Smith’s highlight thus far in his college career was during an EWB trip in Guatemala assisting local communities with improvements to their water access and quality.
“One of the first steps to becoming a developed nation is access to clean water. At home, I can turn on my sink and instantly have clean water, but in other countries, you must hike mountains with water on your back for miles. It was a very humbling and fulfilling experience”, Smith said.
Smith with local villagers and teammates during an Engineers Without Borders trip to Guatemala. Photo Credit: Justus Smith
Smith has been involved with undergraduate research for the past two years under the tutelage of Dr. Brendan Higgins. His research focuses on optimizing algae growth from the wastewater treatment process. “Wastewater treatment involves complex systems that are not entirely efficient”, Smith explains, “and Dr. Higgin’s research works to improve the processes’ efficiency to foster a more circular economy”. Smith first met Dr. Higgins through an Honors College course where faculty shared their research with undergraduate students. He immediately reached out to Dr. Higgins and found himself applying for a student research fellowship shortly thereafter.
When asked what advice he would give to other undergraduates wishing to capitalize on their own opportunities Smith responded, “First, find out what your interests are. I spent my first 6 months exploring several student clubs to find the right home. Don’t be afraid to cold email professors even though they are so busy. They will at least point you in the right direction. You could always just show up to their office to ask for advice! It’s important to play upon your existing networks.”
Smith is also a student recruiter for the AU Office of Admissions. Smith states, “The amount of people I’ve talked to in this [recruiter] role has been amazing. From five-star athletes to people from as far away as Brazil, it’s been great to see people from different backgrounds that are interested in Auburn!”
Smith with fellow members of Auburn University’s Student Chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Photo Credit: Justus Smith
This summer, Smith will travel to Japan for a month to explore the world of sushi cuisine courtesy of a Birdsong Scholarship, a study abroad scholarship fund established by Fred Birdsong, ‘34 and his wife Mary Lou, to broaden the educational experience of undergraduate engineering students. This unique opportunity requires recipients of the award to gain international experience by undertaking studies in a discipline other than engineering. This Summer, Smith will also travel to Montana State University’s Extreme Biofilms Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).
Smith has some lofty goals for his final year of undergraduate: to submit a peer-reviewed research publication and to secure scholarship funds for other students to travel with EWB.
After graduating from AU, Smith hopes to attend graduate school. While he plans to focus on the academic world of water, Smith’s interests are broad. Coastal resiliency and microbial engineering are topics that capture his attention.
“I have been privileged and blessed to have all these experiences, especially as someone from a small town in Alabama. Education has been a way to create opportunities for myself and I would love to create opportunities for others. There’s so much work to be done”.
So much work to be done indeed.