Tenzin Yangkey

Hometown: Leh Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, India

Education: Duke University, Class of 2020

B.S.E. Environmental Engineering

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate

NAE Grand Challenge Theme: Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure

Advisor: Dr. Henri Gavin


Growing up in the Himalayas, Ladakh, a cold and arid dessert in northern India, I witnessed the rapid urbanization in my hometown Leh, with the growth of the tourism industry. The primary means of travelling to the city went from riding local bus during my childhood days to catching taxis, which became the most popular option until few years ago*.  With the huge influx of tourists during summer months, there is an increasing demand to cater the urban lifestyle of the visitors: using showers and western toilets which requires high volume of water and the only means to supply the demand in Leh is to draw already low underground water. While there’s short term benefit to the to the tourism industry i.e. financial gain, the practice is not sustainable in the long term as the region lies in a rain-shadow area and receives an average rainfall of 60-70mm annually which is not enough to recharge the ground water. It is quite likely that Ladakh might face water shortage if sustainable development initiatives are not prioritized in the upcoming development agendas. This is one such issue I grapple with on a daily basis when I think about urban infrastructure development in India.

In order to understand different phenomenons at play in the above case, I see multidisciplinary education as one of the most effective ways to understand the different layers of complexities involved in the issue. At Duke, I had the opportunity to learn about the aging water and wastewater infrastructure in the US which requires a multidisciplinary lens to fully comprehend the problem and find innovative and sustainable solution. Additionally, I am huge advocate of environmental injustices happening across United States and the world. Being a Grand Challenge Scholar provides me the right platform and opportunity to engage in these issues and gain a deeper understanding. I am able to combine my engineering background as an environmental engineer with social, environmental and financial knowledge I have accrued through non-traditional setting such as conference, community engagement and etc. It is not only intellectually stimulating, it also helps me pave the way to bring meaningful changes to the issues I care about.

My region specific interest lies in tackling social and environmental issues in the Hindukush Himalaya (HKH) region, with a focus on the Tibetan Plateau. In the future, I hope to work as an environmental researcher in the HKH region.

*The transportation system has now reversed back to the local public bus transit system.