Alumni Impact Story: Sonam Shah ’12 – Jefferson’s MS in Sustainable Design Program

Alumni Impact Story: Sonam Shah ’12 – Jefferson’s MS in Sustainable Design Program

Sonam Shah is a Mechanical Engineer at Arup, a global firm working to solve today’s biggest challenges in all sectors of the built environment. She focuses on HVAC Design and Energy Consulting, and works with a phenomenal team of  designers, engineers, consultants, and technical specialists who share her values of collaboration and environmental stewardship.

MSSD Thesis Title: Fenestration Design in Conjunction with Space Heating and Cooling for Office Buildings
Job Title: Mechanical Engineer @ Arup, NY


MSSD Background

Why did you come to the MSSD Program?
When I was looking at graduate programs, I was particularly interested in a curriculum that would include technical learning, but also interaction with professionals to gain practical insight. I also wanted to avoid a hardcore engineering program, despite my engineering background, in order to understand the rationale and perspective of other construction industry professionals around issues of sustainability. The MSSD curriculum provided all the opportunities I was looking for.

What Stood out for you in the Program?
Previously, I had limited exposure to working and studying in groups with different disciplines. The design charrettes and other group projects gave us opportunities to understand the perspectives of fellow students and professors from different backgrounds, and recognize novel ways of implementing ideas.

How has it helped you achieve your goals?
The technical courses, interactions with professors, and the internships collectively helped me understand how I wanted to practice sustainability while adhering to my engineering background. The program also introduced me to people from diverse backgrounds with varying viewpoints that have shaped my daily interactions with colleagues and clients.  

Alumni Impact

The following questions are structured around the Integral Framework, which the MSSD Program uses to guide the design process. The framework allows us to explore a topic fully through the lenses of Experience, Culture, Performance, and Systems.


What has your experience been like in your current work?
I usually have a good mix of projects to work on- for example, recently, I have have been working on a commercial space such as a roastery that demands aesthetic solutions, while also working on the rehabilitation of a 30 building housing complex that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Meeting the expectations on such a diverse spectrum of projects, and ultimately making the clients and the very different end-users happy, can be a very gratifying experience.


Cultural/ Equity

How does your culture show up in or inform your work?
I feel fortunate to be working with a firm that strongly believes in the social responsibility, and in promoting sustainability and a better quality of life through changes in the built environment. There is a lot of focus on education and research to reduce environmental impact. Everyone at Arup is very open-minded and collaborative, so it makes the process of achieving the common end-goal that much easier and more satisfying.  



Here are a few numbers we collected that help us measure the impact of Sonam’s design interventions so far.

30+ Buildings Rehabilitated after Natural Disasters

#3 on Top 45 Green Engineering Firms

2 million + SqFt of LEED Certified Projects


Systems and Processes

What innovative technologies or processes have you created to achieve your goal?
At Arup. i am doing more to contribute to shaping the way the industry is thinking about overall impact and how design works. For example, through the charrette processes and brainstorming with clients, we are able to incorporate  large-scale sustainable systems like geo-exchange, energy recovery, PV, and solar hot water along with latest advanced controls. We also work with manufacturers to devise new products based on research and experience .

Final Thoughts:

I met some of the nicest and smartest people in the program, and came across some great opportunities that I wasn’t expecting. The professors have all gone out of their way in providing guidance, resources and moral support. Rob Fleming and the Dean even helped me find accommodation during some tough times!! When I moved to Philly, it was my first time traveling outside of my country. I was nervous on so many levels, as expected, but the professors and the staff made it so much easier for me to focus on the academics, for which I’m so grateful.