Juliet Nwagwu Ume-Ezeoke was born in Nigeria in 1999, the year the country transitioned to democracy from a military regime. Juliet’s mother, a human rights lawyer, had grown up in the aftermath of the Biafran War, another turbulent era in the country’s history, and instilled in Juliet a passion for advocacy and a love of learning. When Juliet’s family moved from Nigeria to Senegal, her mother taught her how to embrace change and find joy in new cultures—so, when at the age of 11, Juliet moved to the United States with only her younger brother, she felt slightly more prepared for what lay ahead.
Although her new home, Pflugerville, Texas, was markedly different from anywhere she had previously lived, she found comfort in her high school speech and debate team, which connected her to memories of her mother’s advocacy work. Discussing global affairs through speech gave her a deeper understanding of complex societal problems and introduced her to systems thinking as an approach to developing solutions.
At Harvard College, Juliet studied mechanical engineering and computer science, honing her systems thinking skills. She applied these skills in Engineers without Borders, leading a project in the Dominican Republic focused on building water infrastructure in tandem with a farming community. This project showed her both the complexity and importance of centering people in engineering.
Juliet leveraged travel grants to take internships in Mauritius and Ghana, which further exposed her to a wide array of cultural approaches to engineering design. For her senior thesis, she interviewed stakeholders working on the built environment in Africa to better outline a solution to a problem she had encountered while growing up in Nigeria: unaffordable housing. The result was a computational workflow for integrating locally-sourced, natural materials into existing designs, thus driving down cost. Upon graduation, she returned to Ghana to work in the office of David Adjaye, a thought leader in sustainable African architecture.
Juliet is currently a doctoral student in Stanford’s Doerr School of Sustainability. She works with Rishee Jain and Catherine Gorle to develop computational methods for human-centered design of urban systems. In her career, Juliet plans to employ this approach to build affordable, sustainable, and beautiful built environments for less privileged communities across the globe.