Raha Hakimdavar’s year of water research

Fulbright Scholar Raha Hakimdavar didn’t set out to become an engineer. Born in Iran and raised in Southern California from the age of 10, she was a girl who loved literature, poetry and dance.

Thanks to her father’s convincing, she ultimately earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. “I realized how amazing engineering can be”, she says. Engineers “…make something possible where it wasn’t possible before, and it’s done in a very elegant way”.

After earning her undergraduate degree, Hakimdavar took a job as a structural engineer, only to feel the tug of environmental engineering. During her master’s at Columbia University, she says she fell in love with water engineering. “I think everyone likes water,” she says. “In most countries there’s an appreciation of water,” and a tendency not to waste it, she said, which differs from many places in the United States.

She went on to a PhD program and applied for a Fulbright grant, a prestigious financial award for international educational exchange. The United States government judges applicants on academic merit and leadership potential, according to the Fulbright program. Hakimdavar was selected, thereby securing a year of research at TU Delft, a school rich in water knowledge. The Dutch expertise in water management, she feels, is rooted in the country’s “appreciation of the force water” and centuries of experience “bargaining with it”.

Before arriving in Delft last August, Hakimdavar worried that leaving her academic home base in the middle of her doctoral program could be risky, with the sudden absence of a familiar support system. Several months later, she says, “I’m happy I did it; to be in a new place, representing my research to new people in a new environment”.

Her research area is flood management in parts of the world lacking both flood data and a good system for gathering this critical information. Haiti is one such place, and Hakimdavar is exploring different methods for collecting hydrology data. Right now, she’s gathering flood data using ground instrumentation and satellites while she develops field surveys for uncovering local hydrology knowledge—a combination already known to TU Delft thanks to its TAHMO project, one of Hakimdavar’s resources.

Hakimdavar hopes that her research here will help her to gain “perspective with remote sensing and modelling”, she says, adding that she aims to implement her current research with fieldwork in Haiti this autumn. Along the way, “I’m just really interested in identifying people I can work with—collaborators,” she says.

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