Climate, Culture and Community are Interconnected for Graduating Senior

Charitie Ropati, a senior studying civil engineering and engineering mechanics at Columbia Engineering, is making waves in the field of Indigenous activism and research. Originally from Yup’ik and Sāmoan heritage, Ropati has been dedicated to uplifting Indigenous communities since 2019 when she championed for an inclusive curriculum on Indigenous peoples in her Anchorage, Alaska school district. This initiative resulted in a policy change allowing students to wear their cultural regalia during graduation ceremonies, including the traditional candy lei that Ropati celebrates.

Recently, Ropati received the prestigious 2023 World Wildlife Fund Conservation Leadership Award and delivered a keynote address at the Plenary Session of the U.N. Economic and Social Council focusing on eradicating poverty amidst multiple crises. She is the co-founder of “lilnativegirlinSTEM,” a nonprofit dedicated to promoting equality in STEM for Indigenous women and is actively involved in various initiatives like the Higher Ed Climate Action Task Force and the Center for Native American Youth.

Ropati’s commitment to her community extends to her academic pursuits, where she studies water infrastructure and building resilient systems in the face of climate change. She acknowledges the support she receives from the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at Columbia, where she is able to explore topics that matter most to her.

In her research endeavors, Ropati interned at the lab of Kevin Griffin at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to study arctic plant ecology, connecting her Alaskan roots with her coastal Native culture. Her work explores the effects of climate change on plant life and the environment, emphasizing the importance of Indigenous knowledge in engineering solutions.

As she nears completion of her studies at Columbia, Ropati reflects on the intersection of STEM, climate change, and Indigenous culture. She stresses the significance of incorporating local and Indigenous knowledge into infrastructure development and engineering solutions. Ropati’s advice to current and future students is to consider the broader societal implications of their work and the value of including diverse perspectives in their research and projects.