Kristina Milaj has come a long way during her time at Oregon State, but first, she came a long way on her journey to arrive on to campus.
Milaj grew up in a small town in northern Albania where many girls are not allowed to attend high school.
“I was the first girl from my village to attend high school and to come here to university,” she says.
Milaj says she didn’t realize how much infrastructure her home country lacked while growing up in a post-Soviet society, but her eyes were opened at Oregon State where she decided to major in civil engineering.
“When I got here, I was amazed by the engineering projects that had shaped lives and everything it’s made in this country,” Milaj says. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
Back home, if Milaj had somehow beat the odds and attended university, she says she might have earned a degree in education or economics.
“There’s not much focus on math and science there,” she says.
Instead, Milaj now has an internship lined up with a structural engineering firm and plans to return to Oregon State for a master’s degree in the field.
Her involvement with the Oregon State student chapters American Society of Civil Engineers and Engineers Without Borders provided her life-changing opportunities.
Milaj says her best memory during her time at Oregon State was traveling to Kenya with Engineers Without Borders to install a well and rainwater catchment system in the rural town of Lela. The experience was documented in the film Kel Wer.
“When I saw the community’s excitement when the pump from the well began pumping water out, that was the highlight of my experience as a student,” she says. “It gave me so much confidence to move forward and become the person that can make that happen for communities in the future.”
Milaj hopes her long-term future includes returning to Albania and helping communities that lack infrastructure all over the world.
“I’ve been here for the past four years,” Milaj says. “But I always think back to Albania, and I hope to inspire them, hope to encourage them hope to support them to advance and see many more young people create a great future for my country.”