#CTASpotlight | Puru Shah:
Electrified by Activism

By: CTA Staff
3 April 2018

Genuine epiphanies are few and far betweenmost people are lucky to have one in their life. But in the past few years alone, CTA electrical engineer Puru Shah has sped through a number of sharp turns and newfound passions, all of which piece together a motley and exciting life.

After graduating from Trinity University and a two-year stint at an MEP firmboth in San Antonio, TXPuru realized he was ready to shift away from the city’s particular brand of buttoned-up professionalism. Educated and experienced as an electrical engineer, he took to the internet to find a fresh and promising place to put his skills to use. After a few phone calls, he found himself on a flight to Billings, MT, for an interview with CTA. As he walked off the plane, Puru had the first of many epiphanies: Montana is much, much colder than Texas. Despite a great interview and an offer from the firm, Puru couldn’t forgive the numbness of his nose, so he politely declined the opportunity and returned to Texas. Fortunately, though, the people at Billings referred him to the Austin office. Charmed by the city’s laxer atmosphere and younger crowd, Puru traveled the 80 miles from San Antonio for an interview.

Despite Austin’s free-spirit, Puru was anxious that his shoulder-length dreadlocks and aversion to neckties would be deemed unfit for the workplacehe was back in Texas, after all. However, he was only met with compliments about his hair, and later learned the office chuckles when interviewees don a full monkey suit. All of that without a numb nose, and Puru knew he’d found his new home.

As he settled into this new phase of his career, he doubled-down on his interest in electrical engineering. Especially in a firm that includes architecture, he celebrates the unique perspective of client values provided by his engineering: are they focused on cutting-edge, state-of-the-art design features? Are they committed to energy efficiency and sustainability? Are they concerned with lighting design, heating/cooling, and ventilation to ensure employee comfort? Although it is tucked behind panels and walls, the work of electrical engineers is integral to the functionality and usability of any modern space. Much like a great actor, engineers are most successful when you don’t notice the person behind the work; when a seamless illusion of magic is created. Plain and simple, engineers sit alongside architects in the endeavor to create environments that are not only beautiful, but comfortable, useful, and safe.

CTA Austin team members showing off their guns.

On a Saturday in April 2015, the day that a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck his home country of Nepal, Puru was pulled from his routine and into a profound sense of awareness of his identity. He knew that he was fortunate for his education and opportunities in the States, and as the images of devastation in Nepal ignited newfound feelings of responsibility, Puru felt empowered to take action. As he analyzed the devastation, he recognized a distinct lack of organized communication, and in response co-founded One Stop Portal. The site aimed to mend the disconnect between those who needed relief and those who had the ability to provide it by establishing a consolidated network of needed and available support.

Working on this project, he was struck by the completely regular phenomenon of well-meaning people not being able to maximize immediate support. Specifically, he noticed that the relatively new platform through which people could donateonline crowdfunding hubs like Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and Crowdrisewere inefficient. He admired and encouraged the easy access to giving, but took issue with the fees associated with these sites, which ranged from 3 and 9%. In response, Puru initiated a petition that accrued over 1,600 supporters, enough to cause a ripple of change large enough to incite change from Indiegogo and GoFundMe, who established direct relief pages with lower fees; and even donated back the fees collected. In total, Puru’s novel approach resulted in $250,000 delivered to Nepal relief efforts on behalf of these sitesfar more than he could have imagined raising on his own.

Click here to read a blog post written firsthand by Puru about his projects following the Nepal earthquake.

Spending his free time pouring over these stories, news, and images from Nepala country more than 8,000 miles from where he’d made his new homePuru’s understanding of the underdeveloped infrastructure and living condition in Nepal, even outside of the devastation caused by the earthquake, was renewed. Still humbled by the privilege of his opportunity to study and live in the U.S., Puru sought to empower youth from his native region of Nepal by providing accurate and accessible information that would enable the marginalized Madhesi people, particularly women, to make educated decisions about their lives and future. The online publication that resulted, Madhesi Youth, not only succeeded in providing information for these people, but quickly became a voice for them in a politically-heated and violent atmosphere. Since Puru and his co-writers at Madhesi Youth are safely distant from the turbulence of Nepal and able to publish in English, they have found themselves playing a paramount role in shedding light on the political and economic oppression of the Madhesi people, a necessary step in securing adequate governmental representation and socio-cultural rights. 

From left to right: Ajay Raut, Mukesh Jha, Laxman Das, Puru Shah, standing in the deserts between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

That’s quite a lunch break, huh? In the midst of all of this, Puru is hard at work engineering innovative and elegant electrical design, earning a masters degree in computer science, taking advantage of the culture of Austin, traveling the world, and taking photographs. He recently obtained a grant from Texas A&M to pursue a photography project about migrant workers from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Nepal, and wandered his way through Europe with a camera in hand.

Eventually, Puru imagines that he will synthesize his experience in engineering with his dedication to international humanitarianism and passion for travel. Much of his design work is rooted in an ethos of sustainability, so in the near future, he aspires to acquire real-world experience in designing renewable energy products in developing countries. Though some opportunities glint, nothing has come together quite yet, but based on his track record, it’s only a matter of time before Puru encounters something wholly revolutionary and follows it into a new and fascinating chapter of his life.

The #CTASpotlight series features the unique stories of team members from the many CTA offices and disciplines. Find more stories like this one here.

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