Fostering Roots of Resilience
After seeing Hurricane Maria devastate his home, Carlos Velazquez hopes to use what he learns at YSE and in a joint degree engineering program in China to return to Puerto Rico to help create a new framework for disaster relief focused on vulnerable communities.
For Carlos Velazquez ’22 MEM, nature was always about family. He remembers taking the drive down to Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, to visit his great aunt’s house, running outside through the rain with his cousins, and waiting for the water in the nearby brook to rise so they could splash in the fleeting little pools that emerged.
But when Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, Velazquez’s relationship to the environment changed. After seeing the landscape of his childhood littered with debris, he became much more protective of his environment — of the trees, the water, and the land that had given him so much joy all through his childhood.
“The entire island was hit hard,” Velazquez says. “My family were among the lucky ones. Coming back home, seeing the devastation, and participating in relief efforts is what brought me into disaster resilience and recovery.”
After completing his undergraduate work in environmental engineering at Georgia Tech, where he researched effective hurricane responses, Velazquez says he was drawn to YSE’s environmental management program and the range of courses it offers including stormwater management, coastal engineering, and cultural management. His focus is on natural ecosystems.
Velazquez also was interested in the opportunity to enter a dual-degree program in engineering with Tsinghua University in China. As an undergraduate, Velazquez had studied abroad in Tsinghua and met a student enrolled in the unique program. After speaking with her, he realized it was exactly what he wanted to do after graduation. The program enables Yale students to enhance their expertise in key areas of environmental engineering, including industrial systems, pollution management, water treatment, and energy technology.
Another opportunity to broaden his skill set came last summer when Velazquez interned with YSE’s Urban Resources Initiative to pursue New Haven community forestry projects. The time spent helping small communities plan and implement their environmental goals as an intern was invaluable, he says. It gave him the opportunity to learn skills that will help him assist communities in the future, including his home in Puerto Rico.
Chris Ozyck, Velazquez’s supervisor at URI, praises his undying can-do attitude and how he earnestly approaches every situation as a learning opportunity.
“In my world, he’s a rock star,” Ozyck says. “His rapport with people was endearing, and everybody in the community felt that he was in the struggle with them, not that he was an outsider. It’s magic when that happens. I’ve seen hundreds of students over the years, and he’s in the top five.”
Velazquez says his experience at YSE has given him a clear direction.
“More than the classes and the degree, my YSE experience has truly been defined by the people I’ve met and the stories they’ve shared. The vast spectrum of backgrounds, life experiences, and career paths has opened my eyes to the near limitless amount of ways I can choose to make a positive difference in the world,” he says.
His ultimate goal is to return home to Puerto Rico and use the skills gained at YSE to try to create a new framework for disaster relief on the island — one more heavily centered around local communities.
“There must be major reforms in order to come back from a storm like Maria,” Velazquez says. “I want to make sure that, as these reforms happen, the focus is communities that have less resources when disaster strikes.”