PKG Service Spotlight: Alumna discovers lifelong connection to service during fellowship

Innovation, technology, and research are just some of the commitments that attract prospective students to getting an education at MIT. For Lily Bui (SM ’16, PhD ’20) MIT’s focus to a less acclaimed commitment drew her to MIT.

“When I was looking at master’s programs [I wanted] to be in a place that not only was a center for innovation and technology, but also how to use it responsibly” shared Bui, who enrolled in the Comparative Media Studies master’s program at MIT in 2014.

After completing her undergraduate degree at UC Irvine majoring in international studies and spanish, it wasn’t until she paid a visit to the PKG Center where she gained more clarity about her future career path. After learning about how we offer funding for abroad research opportunities with community organizations through the PKG Fellowship program she jumped at the opportunity.

In the summer of 2015, Bui traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand for a PKG Fellowship working with Sensing City Trust and the Geohealth Laboratory at the University of Canterbury.

Lily Bui participating in an organized bike ride in Christchurch, New Zealand during her PKG Fellowship in 2015 to raise awareness about the need for better cycling and active transportation infrastructure in the city as it rebuilds.

Bui learned during her fellowship the importance of representation in data visualization and how essential having the right data is for city officials when devising plans for disaster relief and prevention.

With Christchurch being in recovery from and earthquake that occurred in January 2015, one of Bui’s interest points for research was studying how air quality is affected by the construction and demolition being done in the aftermath of the earthquake. Her research helped to shed light through her data discovery on which areas are best for children to play as well as explained why so many people suffered from cardiopulmonary disorder, a condition that weakens the heart or lungs that can be caused by lack of air quality.

Bui’s fellowship in New Zealand ultimately led her to getting her PhD in urban studies and planning at MIT, completing her degree in 2020.

Since her fellowship, Bui has held positions at Pacific Disaster Center and the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center, both organizations working to educate and prepare communities in disaster relief.

Lily Bui standing at the Bottle Lake landfill in Christchurch, New Zealand where the earthquake debris was stored during her PKG Fellowship in 2015.

“The PKG Center helped me help me reflect on my own definition of and relationship with service. I think when I was putting together my application for the PKG fellowship, and then after having gone through the program, it made me realize how important service was in anything that I did,” said Bui.

She continued stating that “even the jobs that I’ve had, after leaving MIT, have been in disaster risk reduction, which inherently has that service component built in. Service will forever be a part of my life that I look for.”

Lily Bui facilitating a public discussion about the City and County of Honolulu’s Resilience Plan for the Resilient O‘ahu workshop during her time working at the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center in Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

Bui offers the advice of keeping an open mind to all opportunities presented to you and know that things will not always go as planned for students when doing a PKG Fellowship.

Currently Bui works as a senior fellow performing research at Sonen Capital LLC, an impact investment firm.

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