Senior Spotlight: Mounir Ennenbach, Managing Water Smarter

As a Columbia College first-year eying a career in medicine, Mounir Ennenbach ’16SEAS found himself outraged by a leaky showerhead in his residence hall. After it dripped for several days to general indifference, just submitting a maintenance request wasn’t enough: he measured how long it took to fill a plastic water bottle, and calculated that the single plumbing fixture was wasting more water every day, 35 gallons, than the per capita daily consumption of the nation of Jordan, where he’d grown up.

Cultivating his interests in water management and environmental preservation, Ennenbach explored the University’s broad array of disciplines tackling these challenges, but none combined quite the rigor and sheer practicality of Columbia Engineering’s Earth and Environmental Engineering program. Transferring to SEAS as a junior, he immersed himself in finding solutions for water treatment and management within a broader framework of environmental sustainability.

“The most exciting thing about being an engineer is the creativity involved in the solutions that we find to everyday problems,” Ennenbach says. “In class we’ve been trained to analyze problems and ask the right questions to move creatively and reliably from Point A to Point B.”

His central focus was a national assessment of rainwater harvesting potential, working closely with Engineering Professor Upmanu Lall, who Ennenbach calls “a veritable walking encyclopedia” of environmental expertise, and researcher Paulina Concha Larrauri at the Columbia Water Center. He and Larrauri recently won a weather challenge for their research hosted by the environmental services firm Vaisala, receiving a monetary prize and an invitation to visit the company headquarters in Helsinki, Finland.

“Our goal was to look at rainwater harvesting from a regional perspective by exploring its wide-scale applicability as a water resource, similar to the way that solar/wind energy are disrupting the standard electricity grid," explains Ennenbach. “Our use of gridded precipitation data led us to create a novel deconvolution algorithm that increased the accuracy of our calculations.”

Ennenbach has also learned extensively from Professors Kartik Chandran, Robert Farrauto, and Pierre Gentine, and has been collaborating with classmates to build a wastewater reactor in Chandran’s lab as part of the Columbia Urban Water Design Challenge for Rio de Janeiro. Last summer, he worked at New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, contributing firsthand to the crucial role engineers play in getting vital resources like water from source to consumer.

In addition to his stellar academics, Ennenbach is also an accomplished musician. He earned a degree in piano performance from the Royal Schools of Music in London, and on campus holds regular chamber music performances in addition to playing in various capacities with the Morningside Heights opera scene.

After graduation, Ennenbach will pursue environmental risk management at Citigroup. His team is focused on demonstrating how addressing environmental risk helps to mitigate financial risk, which benefits the company’s bottom line. In the long term, he hopes to continue applying the programming and data analysis skills he’s acquired at the Engineering School towards weather- and environment-related applications.

“I’m going to miss the variety and intensity of the academic atmosphere at SEAS,” he says. “People like to complain how many problem sets we have due, but the rigorous and far-reaching theory and practice we learn in class will definitely give us a leg-up in the workplace and any other future endeavors.”

—by Jesse Adams

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