Eakalak Khan left the mountainous city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, 28 years ago to pursue an education in engineering. Since then, the civil and environmental engineering professor’s academic and professional career has taken him to Hawaii, New York, Los Angeles, North Dakota, and now Las Vegas. In the face of recurrent droughts all over the western United States and dropping levels at Lake Mead, Khan’s passion toward ecology and water conservation drives him to bridge the gap between scientific research and water resources management.
It was the right place and the right time. My expertise is in water, and this is the best place in the world to study it because it is a precious commodity here. The university is putting quite a bit of investment in water and the community sees its importance. I’ve also observed more research being done, and I believe research and education go hand in hand. I consider UNLV the right place for me.
What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?
I like the size of UNLV; it’s not too big or small. The size helps a lot when it comes to collaboration with other people on campus. When it is too small, there’s not enough infrastructure to collaborate and grow my research. I also like the fact that UNLV is a university that is trying to work with the community versus a lot of other universities who merely focus on research. Last but not least, I’m a firm believer in diversity, and UNLV is a very diverse community.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in a city called Chiang Mai, which is in the northern part of Thailand. That was where I did my undergraduate studies. Then I came to the U.S. for my graduate studies and didn’t go back.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I’m an outdoor person. I like the environment, nature, water, and clean air. I believe in maintaining ecology and that drew me to my career in environmental engineering.
What is the biggest challenge in your field?
Providing safe drinking water and sanitation to people around the world. There’s a good portion of people in evolving countries that still don’t have access to clean water. The science and technology are there, but there are things beyond us like politics, culture, and commitment that are always a challenge. Emerging technologies like nanotechnologies are a challenge as well because we know very little about what they do to the environment. Every day we find a different group of contaminants in water, and we need to take care of them.
Tell us about a time you have been daring?
It’s difficult to answer this question because I believe that if I have my heart set on anything, I can do it. That’s why it doesn’t matter how challenging things are; I will always get through it because I believe in perseverance. I believe in your will to succeed. Although I’ve faced a lot of difficulties in my life, I believe if I put in enough effort and do my best, I can get through anything. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve been daring. I’m not sure I’ve faced anything I thought I couldn’t get through.
Finish this sentence, “If I couldn’t work in my current field, I would…”
Be an entertainer. Maybe I would be a musician or a food critic. I enjoy food and like to explore different cultures, and food is part of the culture. I always have something to say about every restaurant I go. I’m a foodie person.
Any tips for success?
Working hard is a must for me, there’s no substitution for that. Be generous, ethical, and kind to people. Sometimes, in order to succeed, you need help people.