Alumni Profile: Puru Shah '12

Engineering Hope

by Carlos Anchondo '14

In the early morning hours of April 25, 2015, Puru Shah’s phone would not stop buzzing. With every notification, it pulsated with an angry and unrelenting urgency. Fumbling through the dark, Shah reached over to his bedside table, grasped his phone, and scrolled through the messages. His annoyance rapidly turned to disbelief and a tight pit formed deep in his stomach. Sitting on the edge of his bed in Austin, Shah learned of the effects from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that had struck his native Nepal.

“My jaw dropped,” Shah says. “I was shocked. I had a trip planned to go camping that day, but I immediately canceled the trip. For days, I could not think of anything else.”

Struggling to make sense of the tragedy, Shah channeled his angst into action. He co-founded One Stop Portal, a centralized online space where users could locate information, analyses, and updates about the Nepal earthquake. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, Shah and his team used the website to organize relief and rescue to affected peoples. With a minimal online Nepalese government media presence, One Stop Portal became a reliable source for news. 

To combat the information vacuum within Nepal, Shah and other Nepalese volunteers from the U.S., Germany, and Nepal built a searchable database of available food, water, medical aid, and volunteers. As Shah and One Stop Portal scoured through social media and situation reports, he came to see the earthquake as a wake-up call about the condition of life in Nepal. 

“At the time of the earthquake, I had become really assimilated into U.S. culture and felt at home here,” Shah says. “I had started working toward the American dream, but when I saw the images of suffering in Nepal, I felt a renewed responsibility to give back, and I became more aware of my identity.”

In addition to One Stop Portal, Shah also founded Madhesi Youth, an organization that strives to produce data-driven, fact-based information about Madhesis, or the people of the southern plains of Nepal. Originally from Janakpur, Shah himself is a Madhesi. He created Madhesi Youth as a digital platform for young Nepalese to express themselves, particularly the marginalized Madhesis and women. Shah researches the causes behind Nepal’s undeveloped infrastructure and has built a network of other young writers who blog about social injustice, gender issues, violence, protest, and more. In January 2016, he launched Stories of Madhes, a “Humans of New York” style blog about the true characters that comprise his native region. 

Somehow, Shah does all of this in his spare time. He works full time as an engineer-in-training at CTA Architects Engineers, an integrated firm of engineers, architects, landscape architects, and interior designers. Shah primarily works on designs for Google, Whole Foods, and Apple. 

“At CTA, we have a very innovative approach to design, and the company is entrepreneurial in nature,” Shah says. “We seek clients who share our vision, and we focus deeply on the client experience.”

Shah helps to design lighting, power distribution, HVAC and refrigeration power, and other systems for retail and commercial buildings. He is studying to take his professional engineering exam this October, a test that all engineers-in-training must pass to become fully licensed. With a B.S. in engineering science and a B.A. in international studies, Shah loves seeing the construction of a building after months or even years of planning. As projects progress and eventually come to completion, Shah performs site visits and ensures everything has been built to CTA’s electrical design specifications. 

As he prepares to take his licensing exam, Shah thanks professors Diana Glawe, Mahbub Uddin, E. Cabral Balreira, and C. Mackenzie Brown for their support through his time at Trinity and after graduation. Shah says he chose Trinity partly for the reputation of its engineering program, and also for the ability to study a wide variety of subjects. In 2015, he began a master’s program in computer science at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 

An avid hiker and sustainability advocate, Shah was excited when CTA sent him to the South by Southwest Eco Conference this past March. He was at a film screening about a nongovernmental organization in Haiti when he serendipitously sat next to a professor from Texas A&M, who told him about a grant for students interested in showcasing stories from conflict-affected regions. Shah immediately thought of the plight of Nepalese labor migrants leaving the country for work in the Middle East. He applied, and, to his surprise, was selected as a Student Media Grant recipient. Shah will spend this December and part of January 2017 interviewing and photographing labor migrants and their families about the deplorable economic conditions in Nepal and their new lives in the Middle East. 

All of this may seem like an insurmountable amount of work, yet Shah takes on each endeavor with pride and a great sense of duty. He remembers receiving the news of the earthquake and hopes to one day return to Nepal to enact change. Yet, as he continues to make a life for himself in Austin, he recognizes that while progress can be slow, progress is progress, and so he takes it one day and one company at a time.