Changing Lives Through Engineering: Brook Thompson’s Story
A Yurok and Karuk Native American from Northern California, Brook Thompson spent her time growing up between the Yurok Reservation and Portland, OR. Her fascination with how the world works started as a child. She first joined a science club in elementary school, and then, at Franklin High School, she joined the local MESA chapter. Brook recalls the opportunity to delve deeper into the invention process as one of the most valuable things in the program. She was not only learning more about issues that the community around her was experiencing, but also designing solutions that could be applied to these real-world scenarios. The importance of the project management component of this design process is something that stuck with Brook through the years and still influences her to this day. Exposure to the MESA invention process, paired with years of watching her carpenter dad build amazing structures, as well as her own experience woodworking and playing around with CAD in high school, encouraged her to continue her educational journey pursuing civil engineering.
Concretely making a positive impact on people’s lives was the driving force behind the choice of civil engineering. During last year’s Career Conversations event, Brook shared how this decision was deeply personal, as she recalls a devastating childhood experience: “When I was seven years old I experienced a fishkill in 2002 on my reservation. It was the largest salmon kill in West Coast history and nothing like that had ever happened in the history of my Tribe. Over 60,000 salmon were killed. The rivers and the salmon is how we made our money, it’s how I paid for my school clothes and my school supplies.These salmon were connections to my ancestors. Because of poor water quality they died within 24 hours. I never wanted to see something like that happen again.” Part of civil engineering is working on water resources, and Brook learned how all the elements that contributed to the fish kill operate, like dams, water pipelines, and water transportation.
Brook now is putting all this knowledge in action, working as a Restoration Engineer for the Yurok Tribe and making a tangible difference in the lives of her community and beyond. In 2022 she graduated with an M.S. from Stanford University in Environmental Engineering with a focus on Water Resources and Hydrology. Prior to that, she received her B.S. from Portland State University’s Honors College with a degree in Civil Engineering and a minor in Political Science. Currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of California Santa Cruz, she continues to integrate STEM, public policy, and social action. Her research focuses on better incorporating tribal perspectives into California Water policy. Her unique position as a Native American woman in STEM, allows her to bridge the gap between traditional knowledge and modern technology, advocating for indigenous voices in critical conversations about water policy and climate change.
Her dedication and accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. As a recipient of prestigious awards like the Gates Millennium Scholar, UNITY’s 25 Under 25, and others. Brook has become a voice for her community and a beacon of inspiration. Her story is a testament to the transformative impact of programs like MESA, and the urgent need for more indigenous perspectives like hers in STEM and beyond. Learn more about Brook at https://www.brookmthompson.com/