• YEAR: Doctoral student
  • MAJOR: Ecological Sciences and Engineering
  • HOMETOWN: Bringhurst, Indiana

Lindsey Payne

Growing up along the banks of Indiana's Wildcat Creek fostered an early appreciation for conservation in Lindsey Payne and a lifelong attraction to water that she still doesn't quite understand. As a PhD student, her research focuses on urban water projects and training engineering students in the collaborative design process. In the community, she is a champion for the environment — from leading efforts to clean up the Wabash River to helping local businesses go green.

Small projects, big impacts

A volunteer for the Wabash River Enhancement Corp., Lindsey led efforts to obtain a $50,000 grant to install urban water projects like rain barrels, rain gardens, and native plants and trees in the community. She also developed a Purdue course that let students put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. In spring 2013, her students worked with community partners to complete projects that will divert 837,822 gallons of water annually from the storm water system and reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading of the Wabash River.

"This class was such a joy for me and working with the students and community volunteers really reinforced my passions and desire to give back," Lindsey says. "Small projects can truly lead to big impacts!"

Conservation as a career

After earning a bachelor's degree in biology, Lindsey worked professionally for 10 years before enrolling in Purdue's Ecological Sciences and Engineering (ESE) graduate program.

"As a junior in college, I had a study abroad experience in Tanzania, and that was my 'aha moment.' I was immersed in conservation efforts and connecting that to community involvement," she says. "I had found my calling but didn't know at the time how to translate that interest into a career."

It wasn't until she was teaching high school biology years later that a colleague told her about Purdue's ESE program. She enrolled the next semester.

Value the journey

If you ask Lindsey what her dream job is, she'll tell you she's more about the journey than the destination.

"I know that I want to use my skills, training and passion to help the communities where I live become more sustainable," she says. "And someday, I want the opportunity to reshape the student experience — to teach students who are not only educated in the academic sense but also in the broader sense of giving back and engaging in their communities. I want students to value the journey rather than just rushing toward the destination."

Low-impact living

Instead of a car, Lindsey's garage houses two kayaks and two bicycles. She gave up driving years ago so she could travel internationally, and she has since been to Namibia, Nicaragua, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

To get around town, Lindsey bikes or rides the bus. "Not having a car forces me to engage in my surroundings more," she says. "It's a different experience. I can't roll up the window and shut everybody out."

To further reduce her carbon footprint, Lindsey gardens in her backyard and in a community plot. She also enjoys canning, making her own bread and composting. "I could probably go four months without putting out any trash, if it wasn't for our two cats," she laughs.