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Nikiya Crisostomo headshot

Nikiya Crisostomo

BS ’12, MS ’14, Civil & Environmental Engineering
I was born in the Philippines and lived there until I was 10 years old. One of my most prominent memories is driving to school with my dad and sisters.

The traffic was always bad, and as I sat in the car for hours, I remember looking out the window at the 'squatter areas,' where the poor and homeless lived. I remember thinking that improving their quality of life would be as easy as giving them decent housing, and that I would do that for them when I grow up. When my family moved to the U.S., I experienced culture shock in seeing the discrepancy between life in an underdeveloped country and life in one of the richest countries. I was deeply grateful to come here, but it always bothered me that there are people back home who will never have the opportunity to get out of their dire situations. From then, I told myself, 'I’m going to use whatever opportunities I can get in the U.S. to figure out a way to help Filipinos back home.' And that’s what I’m still striving to do to this day.

Right now, I’m working in construction/project management at San Francisco International Airport. My current project is doing work throughout the International Terminal to revitalize the space for improved passenger experience that could lead to revenue enhancement. I’m still trying to learn as much as I can about the building industry, and mainly focusing on the management and user-centered processes, so I can eventually translate that knowledge and experience once I start focusing on housing for the poor in the Philippines. My current company is big on strong engineering through strong personal relationships, and I’ve seen firsthand how excellent collaboration pushes projects to succeed. Because of this, even though my work is in engineering, social interactions and interpersonal relationships end up defining the strength of our projects. For me, as a result of my background, engineering is all about empathetic problem-solving to lift people out of the indecency of poverty. It is about working with the people to serve the people.

These days, the term 'triple bottom line' is thrown around a lot in construction. But while the triple bottom line is supposed to equally value people, planet, and profit in order to carry out a successful sustainable project, I have found that, in the real world, profit is always at the top. In our world, money is the driver of everything. I want to change that. I want to challenge the building industry to flip the triangle of the triple bottom line and have people and planet be at the top, above profit. I think that if we could do this, we could create systems that provide poor communities with a way of life worthy of human dignity, and help address the long urgent need to bridge the extreme gap that currently exists in the world’s social order.

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