Ann Crews Melton
Ellie Klose, second from right, at a meet-up of MIT students during her work-study abroad in India. (Submitted)

Ellie Klose, second from left, with colleagues at the ReMaterials office in Ahmedabad, India. The company builds affordable, durable roofing panels for local clients. (Submitted)

Bismarck native Ellie Klose has learned to embrace the world beyond the prairie. (Submitted)

Ellie Klose, second from left, rides an elephant during her stay in Udaipur, India. (Submitted)

At only 19, Bismarck native Ellie Klose has learned to navigate multiple worlds with ease. In a single conversation she jumps from the harshness of North Dakota winters to the difficulties of developing centrifuge technology for avocado farmers in Tanzania, to plans for her college radio show "The Illest Villain," to riding an elephant for the first time.

"It's like an entirely different world," she says, contrasting her Bismarck upbringing with life as a mechanical engineering student at Boston's Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), although the quote could apply to any of her recent experiences. "Obviously the school work, the rigor, is one side, but (MIT is) also a very community-based environment, so it's not cutthroat."

Klose graduated from Bismarck High School in 2014. Since relocating to Boston she has conducted research in both East Africa and India, and she seems eager to continue traveling to remote locations of the globe.

"I have always been open to new cultures, but this experience has challenged my own ideas about how accepting I am of different ideas and ideals," Klose wrote in a reflection on her work-study abroad in India.

Klose spent the summer testing roofing panels for the startup ReMaterials in Ahmedabad, India, a city near the country's western-most point. She says her long, blonde hair made her stand out in a region unaccustomed to Western tourists, and she often had difficulty communicating with locals since Gujarati, rather than India's official languages English and Hindi, was the dominant tongue.

She describes her travel abroad as "sink-or-swim" experiences that have helped her establish a sense of independence.

"It's really hard to describe culture shock. I think daily logistics were the most challenging," says Klose, who relied on Uber and other cell phone apps to direct her rickshaw driver for the 45-minute commute to her office.

Once at work, she conducted accelerated lifecycle tests, assessing the long-term durability of ReMaterials' roofing panels. The panels are made from compressed recycled cardboard with a waterproof coating, colored turquoise so they attractively stand out. Most Gujarati inhabitants use either cement and corrugated metal roofs, which are poorly ventilated and can cause health concerns, or concrete roofs, which tend to be cost-prohibitive for low-income families. ReMaterials' roofing panels are cheaper and more durable than the area's typical roofing options, and Klose's research will help determine when the panels need to be replaced.

"They are targeting families who can't afford a concrete roof but can afford a cheaper alternative, either independently or with the help of a microfinance company," Klose explains.

Klose lived in an apartment with three other U.S. students, and the group befriended Indian university students while visiting temples and other tourist destinations. She plans to stay in touch with her Indian colleagues and friends and hasn't ruled out returning in the future.

"Working abroad is often romanticized, but there are also many associated challenges that require a lot of patience and understanding to overcome," she says. Still, "the people that I met were definitely the best thing about Ahmedabad."

For the present, Klose will continue co-hosting her MIT student radio show while carrying a full course load. She plans to return to Tanzania with a team developing affordable avocado oil technology for farmers.

Wherever she ultimately lands, Klose will remain shaped by her North Dakota roots, which give her one specific edge over her East Coast colleagues.

"We had the worst Boston winter on record last year but it was just typical (for me)," she says. "A lot of people are from other places like California and Texas, so everyone's just really cold," she continues, laughing. "I'm like, you have no idea."

Ann Crews Melton grew up in Texas and landed in the North Dakota prairie after nearly a decade spent in Boston and New York City. She is a writer and editor who lives with her husband and daughter in Bismarck.