Shashank Kumar came from India to Canada to complete a master’s degree in USask’s School of Environment and Sustainability. (Photo: Submitted)

SENS student savours success in master’s program

Shashank Kumar’s smile is contagious, his optimism, relentless. He credits this outlook to his parents, who instilled in him the philosophy that a positive attitude (no matter how tedious or unpleasant the task at hand) is the key to enjoying what you do.

By Megan Evans

“How do you want to approach work you don’t like? You cry while you do it, or nag yourself? That doesn’t make any sense,” said Kumar, an international student at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) who officially marked the completion of his master’s degree during the virtual Fall Convocation celebrations. “Any time I start a project, I try to see the fun in the problem, or the humour in the details. This keeps me motivated.”

With an undergraduate background in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in nuclear science obtained in India, Kumar decided to move to Saskatoon in order to pursue USask’s Master of Sustainable Environmental Management (MSEM), a one-year professional degree program in the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS).

“I had already been to Saskatchewan for my master’s project in nuclear science. There are fantastic facilities here. The MSEM program offered me the opportunity to add in the human dimension when solving important world problems. Without a sustainability lens on any issue, most times the solution misses the point. You end up having to solve the problem again, a second or third time.”

Kumar was hoping to apply his nuclear science background to uranium issues in Saskatchewan, but when the opportunity to work on the Saskatchewan River Delta arose, he was eager to do something to help. Back home in the mountainous region of India, Kumar tended to a wide variety of fruit trees, so a project focused on finding a constructive use for an invasive grass species was a good fit.

“Whatever I am doing, I’m focused on the outcome for community and society. I want to solve problems that matter, and I want to help people,” Kumar said. “I love new ideas and testing them. But not just any ideas. Thoughtful, sustainable ideas. I will never be finished learning.”

Despite the twists and turns of 2020, Kumar remains positive in the face of disappointment.

“I really wanted to participate in the convocation ceremony, because I have completed my degree from a very good university in Canada, and I wanted to celebrate in that way. COVID means that my family cannot come here and see me graduate, and I cannot go to see them, either. But still, I have the degree, and I can go visit my family, hopefully soon.”

Now that he’s graduated, Kumar wants to focus on entrepreneurial endeavours for water conservation.

“I want to introduce my startup, which is focused on switching from regular toilets to bidets. One roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water to process. Think of the water we could save if we reduced our consumption that way,” he said. “But this will require changing attitudes, whether about climate change or hygiene. It will require some convincing, but I am excited about this work.”

“Shashank has a great blend of knowledge and skills to be able to tackle some of the biggest environmental challenges in the world,” said Dr. Graham Strickert (PhD), a SENS professor who taught Kumar. “He is one of those people who will change the world for the better.”