Exploring Beyond the Norms of Engineering and Tech With Shah Shelbe, National Geographic Society

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Shah Shelbe walked into the auditorium sporting jeans cuffed at the bottoms, a slim blue button down, and a light brown sports jacket. Although his long beard suggests that he is indeed the type of man that has spent some time in the wilderness, at first sight he did not come across as being a National Geographic Explorer. But who is to say that all explorers must wear rubber boots, hiking shorts, and carry a walking stick? Definitely not me. Just as I was quick to conjure up an image of an explorer based on my own preconceived notions, Shah urged us to think beyond the “norms” with regard to engineering and tech.

Engineers have classically been portrayed as nerdy and socially awkward specimens. But Shah, a chemical and propulsion engineer, reminded us that there is not a sole cookie-cutter mold for all engineers. He is relieved that engineering has increased its “coolness,” and stands by the belief that engineers give us the tools necessary to uncover humanity’s mysteries and save its treasures.

Currently in society, as Shah explained, companies that were invented in the 1950s and 60s are being rebuilt with the emergence of the tech industry. He says, “We are living in an amazing and remarkable time.” And as is commonly the case at Stanford it is particularly easy to fall into the trap of trying to create the next big thing – be it a new social network or an addictive app. But Shah encouraged us to think beyond the Silicon Valley bubble, promising that there are a myriad of problems beyond it that long for innovative solutions.

The Boeing employee, turned Engineer Without Borders volunteer, turned Stanford grad, turned fish savior, turned National Geographic emerging explorer (in a nutshell), is a testament to his own idea that “opportunity exists everywhere, especially in the least expected places.” Shah, the enthusiastic conservationist and Explorer, a title that most Stanford grads don’t have in their job description, inspired us to find our own inspiration because as he says, “the world needs you.”

Next Wednesday, Jeanne Gang, Founder and Principal of Studio Gang Architects, will be speaking at NVIDIA Auditorium @ 4:30 PM. To see the full lineup of speakers for this quarter, go to our website etl.stanford.edu

By Alejandro Rosenkranz

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