My STEM Story: Luke Jankowski

Luke harnessed his environmental science studies to provide disaster relief and build stronger communities.


Many of my Voluntary Public Service activities involved STEM. Volunteering as a hurricane relief worker in New Orleans through Camp Restore serves as an example. I used carpentry and engineering to rebuild and provide maintenance of homes for under-served people who suffered severe damage to their homes due to Hurricane Katrina.

One homeowner had been the victim of a contractor who had been paid to re-build her home but had re-used wet, ruined insulation resulting in severe mold growth throughout her house. Working with others, I demolished the interior walls and ceiling of her four-room, one-story house, removed the offensive insulation and then installed clean, dry insulation, carried, placed, and nailed new dry-wall, and then taped and plastered the walls and ceilings.

Through this experience, I learned not only carpentry and engineering skills but also how to work safely on a construction site.

In Puerto Rico, my group partnered with a local grassroots organization named CAMBU to work on projects designed to aid the local community as it struggled to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

In particular, CAMBU acquired an abandoned school and surrounding land with the goal of turning it into a multi-purpose community center with a kitchen, garden, and meeting center for the people of Las Marias. One of my projects included making the empty kitchen utilitarian by constructing shelving units through cutting planks, assembling them into shelves and painting them.

In creating a community garden with the people of Las Marias for the purpose of providing fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables and a meeting location, I weeded, tilled, terraced, and fertilized the soil on a hillside with others and was then tasked with determining the best lay-out for the fruit trees, vegetables, and sitting areas. I dug holes for and planted numerous banana trees to provide shade as well as fruit. I then established, leveled, and stabilized the area for the sitting benches and finally placed the benches.

During this process I learned a farming technique known as the “crescent moon” where a hole in the shape of a crescent moon is dug for the plant to be placed because, when rainwater falls, the design of the hole makes it so that the soil around the base of the plant does not flood and creates soil stability, especially on a hillside.

Most recently, I volunteered at Third Street Elementary School in Los Angeles to help educate students on environmental science by applying concepts I learned in my high school class. I created a fun, informative PowerPoint for the third-grade students and, with them, assembled a self-sustaining Eco-Zone System to demonstrate how the three primary environments interact with each other.

Furthermore, I helped reclaim lost garden space and created an eco-friendly area that utilizes rainwater capture systems to water vegetation and serves as an outdoor learning area. I learned how to better apply STEM concepts I learned in my environmental science course, such as how to retain and reuse rainwater, to real life situations.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.