Austin Portinause, Conservation + Tech ’22 (ME): “I want to be able to do more good in this world than the bad I may put into it.”

Austin Portinause is a Conservation + Tech fellow studying Mechanical Engineering. Here, he shares about how his experience in the Navy and enrolling in UC Berkeley, ultimately led him to the Fung Fellowship.

I originally hail from Lake Charles, Louisiana and joined the Navy when I was 18. During that time, I deployed five times and got to see a lot of the world (good, bad, and terrible) and that gave me perspective on our shared humanity. After almost nine years of service on the seas, I decided to shift my focus away from the military and began my journey of doing my best to help others.

What do you study and why did you choose it?

I am a Mechanical Engineering major. I had initially wanted to pursue Aerospace Engineering but [at the time] UC Berkeley only offered Mechanical Engineering. I plan on getting the Aerospace concentration for the degree. I have a fascination with solving problems and a particular interest in space exploration and space technologies.

What inspired you to apply to the Fung Fellowship?

As soon as I was accepted to Berkeley, the first thing I wanted to do was get involved in social and environmental justice topics on campus. I had applied to a few different programs and I was lucky enough to be selected into the Fung Fellowship!

Can you share some of the design challenges or projects you’ve worked on or you’re currently working on in the Fellowship?

For the first design challenge (DC1), our team designed a relaxing natural space to include a vine pergola and an area to interact with nature in a dense urban environment. For DC2, our team designed a possible case study for the implementation of urine diversion and capture toilets as an infrastructure with buy-in from real estate developers in order to defray costs to consumers as well as implement toilets in the larger marketplace.

“Being a part of the Fung Fellowship is teaching me more patience and encourages me to listen to different perspectives.”

My favorite part of these design challenges has been to work with people of different backgrounds and skills. I often find myself to be one of the more enthusiastic group members and will always try to keep the pace of a group moving forward. Being a part of the Fung Fellowship is teaching me more patience and encourages me to listen to different perspectives.

What inspired you to become the Professional Development Lead for the Fung Fellowship Student Board?

I was a young sailor in the Navy when I found out the hard way that it is imperative to lean on others or ask for help in order to accomplish your goals. I was fortunate enough to have some amazing mentors that helped guide me and eventually became a mentor of my own. It’s extremely rewarding to help people with the little things that can make a big difference.

Are there any other big lessons from the Navy that you carried with you into Berkeley and the Fung Fellowship?

The Navy gave me the opportunity to find maturity when I had barely any of it. It taught me the importance of hard work and that you will only ever get out of something what you put into it. That can apply to more than just working hard. If you apply positivity to, say, a design challenge, it’s generally a lot easier to feel positive about the work that you are doing. It’s easy to get pessimistic in today’s world and it’s much better to spread positivity.

“It’s easy to get pessimistic in today’s world and it’s much better to spread positivity.”

What are your professional goals?

I would love to one day work at NASA or another aerospace company whose mission is to advance human understanding of the universe.

What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?

A net positive one. I want to be able to do more good in this world than the bad I may put into it.

What advice do you have for future UC Berkeley transfer and veteran students? What about future Fung Fellows?

Definitely get involved on campus with something. Your academics are important to your career and your understanding of your field, but the true gold lies in the collaboration and sharing of ideas with your peers. It gives you the opportunity to create something out of this world that would never have been done alone. You’re at the #1 public university after all!

What are some of your hobbies/passions?

My passions are getting involved in my community and being active. I found that action in the community continues your understanding of our evolving humanity and teaches you a lot about yourself. The Fung Fellowship is definitely one of those stops on my journey and continues to inspire me to explore the intersection of engineering and social justice and environmental conservation.

“I found that action in the community continues your understanding of our evolving humanity and teaches you a lot about yourself.”

Connect with Austin.

Edited by Alison Huh

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