Engineering News Fall 2017

Sustaining a Passion

As a member of SCU’s 2009 Solar Decathlon team, Richard Navarro ’10, M.S. ’12 gained the confidence and drive to take on grand challenges. Now he does just that on the job every day as a sustainability engineer for Google.

At SCU we strive to inspire and develop entrepreneurial thinkers who will build a more just, humane, and sustainable world. It’s a lofty goal, but we know we are succeeding when we see our students moving from theory to impact in the world. A shining example of engineering for good is electrical engineering alumnus Richard Navarro ’10, M.S. ’12, now a Google E-Team Operations Integrator—or sustainability engineer—with responsibility for the Bay Area, Europe, and Asia, who got his start in this field as the electrical lead on SCU’s Third Place winning entry in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2009 Solar Decathlon. Navarro credits his Santa Clara education and hands-on experience working with a team of fellow undergraduates to design and build a fully functional sustainable home with giving him the confidence and chutzpah to take on grand challenges.

Still in his senior year, Navarro was first hired by Google as a Green Consultant, tasked with helping the company achieve LEED green certification. “It was one of the most challenging things,” Navarro said, “because at the time I had no background besides the Solar Decathlon house in getting a green building certification out the door. It was a project that typically took two years, but we were able to do it in one. That was with me literally just learning on the fly, getting through each piece of the documentation, working with a number of teams, and…getting them to think about sustainability and how it really applies to them. Getting a building on Google’s campus certified, getting people to think differently…. I felt like I had a huge effect. Taking what I learned from Solar Decathlon, bringing it to the campus here at Google, and then building a sustainability program on top of that—one that affects Google’s global operations—it’s crazy! That had a domino effect for how Google thought about sustainability for their operations.”

While Navarro was driving a passion for sustainability, he was also becoming a more effective teammate. His Solar Decathlon experience had given him a great start, but at Google he was being exposed to different team cultures that required deeper empathy and understanding. So, as he was pursuing his master’s degree in sustainable engineering, he completed a graduate minor in science, technology, and society (STS). “The STS minor has great courses focused on working with global cultures and how gender functions in the workplace, and just learning about how technology affects society. I knew I could get the technical stuff, but there’s so much more out there,” he said.

One of his favorite courses was Building Global Teams, which “unraveled so much” about situations he was facing at work. “Being able to float in between cultures and different work styles is super important,” said Navarro. “No matter how ‘American’ a global company like Google is, there is still a lot of local culture embedded. I totally respect that, and now I have a roadmap to help navigate it. Marian Stetson-Rodriguez, who taught the course, was so dead-on to all the roadblocks I was facing, and it was super helpful and relevant.”

These days, Navarro works with colleagues around the world looking for opportunities to be more sustainable—reducing waste, reusing water, and running Google’s buildings at the highest level of efficiency.  “One of the big issues we’re focused on recently is inner air quality and examining how the indoor environment affects the Google employees,” he said. “As much as my role is in sustainability, it’s also in health and wellness. And that’s super challenging, but—especially as an engineer from Santa Clara—I’m used to solving big problems, to tackle them, to be curious.

“The coursework and community I built at Santa Clara definitely shaped the kind of teammate I am at Google. Google is very important as well because they’ve allowed me to explore. I couldn’t have asked for anything better, going from Santa Clara to Google. It was like a match made in heaven!”

Richard Navarro, shown here working on SCU's 2009 Solar Decathlon house, credits that experience with his success at Google.  Photo: Charles Barry