When people ask Ahmad Koya about his major, he tells them environmental engineering is about saving the world. When they ask about his travels as a Stanford student, he says he wants to know the world.

“When people ask me, ‘Why are you doing what you’re doing?’ I can say, ‘Because I went to that community over there, saw how they’re struggling, and want to help them solve their problems,’” he said. “I feel like having concrete examples and experiences of what people are going through around the world just adds more reasons for me to be on this path.”

Andrew Brodhead, Harry Gregory, Kurt Hickman, and Adrienne Kemp-Rye

Koya’s journey toward a globally minded education began at age 10, when he attended school in Nigeria for two years. When he returned to his hometown, Chicago, which he calls “the best city in America,” Koya was excited to continue gaining and sharing knowledge, especially with his two younger brothers.

Several interests led him to Stanford Engineering: As a vegetarian since childhood, he cared about environmental impacts; he enjoyed STEM; and he was fascinated with the importance of water for all life on Earth.

Ahmad Koya and Jeff Koseff walk together in a hallway

Koya says his major – environmental engineering – is about saving the world. His professor and mentor Jeffrey Koseff is founding co-director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. | Andrew Brodhead

Koya piques people’s interest in his work by calling himself a “waterbender” – a reference to the show Avatar: The Last Airbender.

His biggest undertaking was a water treatment project through Engineers for a Sustainable World. During winter and spring 2023 at Stanford, Koya and his team designed, prototyped, and tested water filters. In summer 2023, the team traveled to the African country of Malawi to build their system with local materials while gathering feedback from residents to continuously improve the design.

Ahmad Koya rides his bike on the Quad
Koya will spend the summer studying in Jordan and working in Singapore before completing his coterminal degree. | Andrew Brodhead
I want to find projects where I can lend my expertise, collaborate, and uplift communities around the world.”
Ahmad Koya, ’24

“I learned so much more when I was on site in Malawi,” he said. “There’s a back-and-forth exchange of me sharing what I know and what I’ve experienced, and them sharing what they know and their experience until we reach a solution that helps everybody.”

Koya has maximized his opportunities to explore new places and connect with new communities. He studied abroad in Santiago, Chile, and Oxford, England, with plans to study in Jordan this summer.

Ahmad Koya helps visitor with a map at Visitor Information Center

Koya found community in a variety of activities on campus, including being a tour guide, participating in the Arts Immersion program, and performing with the Stanford Improvisors. | Andrew Brodhead

He’s also taken Arts Immersion trips in the Bay Area and New York City. An avid performing artist, Koya has acted in musicals, films, plays, and staged readings at Stanford and is a member of Stanford Improvisors. He says improvisational theater, and the arts in general, have helped him approach engineering problems in creative and innovative ways.

After completing his coterminal degree in environmental engineering in 2025, Koya hopes to continue “waterbending” to solve problems and help others: “I want to find projects where I can lend my expertise, collaborate, and uplift communities around the world.”