An engineer inspired to help communities in need

Daniel Kennedy standing with arms crossed wearing a black shirt with gold aspen trees in background

When Daniel Kennedy began his college career, it was as a mechanical engineering student at ASU. Now, as a graduating senior at NAU and standard bearer for the College of Engineering, Informatics, and Applied Sciences, Kennedy describes his initial path as being “the right direction but the wrong time.” 

After struggling to focus on his studies and losing the scholarship he needed to continue, Kennedy left ASU only one semester into his program. Three years later he returned to school, this time to NAU’s environmental engineering program with something he lacked before: inspiration.  

 “I learned I wanted an education that would help communities become more sustainable,” Kennedy said. 

 With a clear understanding of his reason for studying, Kennedy was able to use his time at NAU to focus on developing his skills in modeling and computing work.  

 “Daniel is not only interested in this branch of research, but he has a very special ability to create breathtaking models and to facilitate computation tools for data analysis,” said Diana Calvo, assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, Construction Management, and Environmental Engineering.  

Daniel Kennedy posing with a young woman in the forest in FlagstaffKennedy’s data analysis and modeling work began as an interest in Microsoft Excel’s advanced capabilities, and expanded to include other data analysis methods including ArcGIS, Python and QIIME2. Kennedy has applied these skills to projects at NAU, including an ongoing analysis of drinking water pathogens in underserved communities.  

“By identifying relationships of known contaminants, the completed model will allow educated predictions to potential unidentified pathogens,” Kennedy said of his work on the project. “This will extend the analysis of drinking water beyond the standard methods.” 

He had to overcome significant personal challenges while working on his degree at NAU. His father’s health began to decline rapidly in the fall of 2022, and he died in early 2023. Kennedy considered taking a semester off from school, but ultimately decided to stay, feeling too much was at stake to leave in the middle of his capstone. Although he had trouble sticking to a routine and staying in the right headspace for his studies, Kennedy did ultimately make it through his senior year successfully.  

“It wasn’t flawless, but I had support. In the end, I can stand here today grateful of the lessons I learned and the challenges that I have overcome.” 

During his time at NAU, Kennedy found a supportive community that helped him succeed, even through the difficulties he faced. In the courses for his major, he never felt that he might “disappear into the classroom,” and outside of his classes, he found himself becoming more outgoing and making friends.  

“College is challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding,” he said. “It helps if you do not do it alone.” 

After graduation, Kennedy will be returning to NAU as a graduate student in environmental engineering where he will continue his research on drinking water quality.  

“I have learned a lot in the past year, and I expect this coming year to be no different.” 


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Jessica Clark | NAU Communications
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NAU Communications