College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Being the solution for a cleaner future: Nikolai Stevens shares influence on improving water quality

Nikolai Stevens standing next to a creek

Nikolai Stevens, a junior studying agricultural engineering, received the 2022 New Voices Award, an honor recognizing people’s contributions to water quality advocacy.

The award was given to 19 different recipients and divided into six broad categories that recognize other water quality areas. Stevens won the award in the category of emerging voices, and one point he made clear is it falls on the next generation to continue improving water quality worldwide. 

“Many small changes can significantly improve water quality if practiced consistently with enough contribution,” Stevens said. “Doing things like refraining from spraying nutrient or pesticide chemicals on your lawns as they eventually drain into the waterways and contribute to nutrient pollution. The most substantial contribution to this issue comes from agricultural practices, which is why I’m interested in making changes there.”

Nikolai Stevens standing by the creek looking down at the water

Growing up, Stevens participated in The Water Rocks Group, a youth water education program on Iowa State University’s campus. The group focuses on youth outreach and education in water quality and inspires kids to take action in addressing a variety of conservation and water quality issues. Stevens’ experience with Water Rocks made him passionate about being the solution to water quality issues.

“Having this experience at a younger age got me familiar with the water quality issue, which made me interested in the major because it’s a very relevant problem in my setting,” Stevens said. “I already had some background knowledge of this specific study thanks to some of the activities and hands-on learning we’ve done, and it taught me a lot of basics about agricultural water quality.”

Stevens’ passion for water quality has driven him to inform others about the issue. Telling people about the problem is one way to solve it, but getting them to care can be challenging when the issue doesn’t directly affect the individual.

Nikolai Stevens standing next to a creek

“It can be difficult as many people don’t see it as a problem that can affect them. So, I think the big key point is to try and educate them more on the issue so that they better understand what’s happening and why,” Stevens said. “I believe that after having more knowledge of the effects of pollution in our waterways that are to come, they can be more inclined to change their lifestyle to contribute to addressing the issue.”

As Stevens continues to gain more experience in his field, there is no question he’s on a mission to make the world a better place. While he’s still completing his undergraduate degree, he’s expressed interest in attending graduate school because he feels it’s the best way he will be able to advance his career goals in addressing water quality. 

“Although I haven’t quite fully decided yet if this is the path I want to take, I’m very interested in working in a research lab setting for a university,” Stevens said. “I think working in a research lab would be the most optimal setting for impacting my field and making a difference because of the abundance of resources available with working for a university, so that also is why I’m considering pursuing higher education after completing my undergraduate.”