By Margaret Wilson

Remy Oktay ’24 is the kind of person who needs to be told to slow down and enjoy his senior year. 

The recipient of the 2024 George Wharton Pepper Prize, Oktay has been busy during his time at Lafayette. His fingerprints can be seen across the campus: on the ground, in the sky, and even in the trees. 

“I’m someone who, when I have an idea of something I want to do, I just can’t stop thinking about it,” Oktay says. “I’m thinking about it when I’m eating, when I’m falling asleep, and when I wake up in the morning.” 

A photo of Remy Oktay with a Pepper Prize Winner 2024 Badge.

The engineering studies and environmental studies double major and data science minor has successfully launched a variety of projects during his tenure. In 2022, Oktay solicited FAA approval and piloted what is presumed to be the first manned electric plane stadium flyover at the Lafayette vs. Lehigh football game. The project brought awareness of electric aviation to the nation’s longest-running college football rivalry with its “Lafayette Gets Electric” campaign. 

That same year, alongside Kristen Stuedel ’22, Oktay installed tree swings throughout campus to celebrate Earth Month. Over the past two years since that first installation, he’s led a team to develop and refine the original design to reduce impact on the trees’ branches and make the swings safer for humans. The aim of the project is to get the community outdoors, engaged with each other, and caring about trees in order to help combat climate change. 

“I’ve always been someone who loves to build things, and I’m a very curious person,” Oktay says. “I guess it’s a mentality of not settling for the status quo, and thinking we can always do better.”  

As an engineer, environmentalist, and Creating and Performing Arts (CaPA) scholar, Oktay finds unique ways to challenge that status quo. During a sophomore year sculpture class in which students were tasked with molding 100 identical plaster objects, Oktay realized it would take days to complete the assignment. He chose to cast life-size feet and arrange them walking up to and climbing 50 feet into a tree on the campus Quad, with the goal of inviting the community to climb trees. He invented his own casting system that dried faster, allowing him to create his 100 feet in less than 24 hours. 

“It was a fun example of having a creative liberal arts brain and having an engineering brain, and being able to switch between the two,” Oktay says. “I think that’s something that’s really been representative of my time here at Lafayette. It’s something that has been incredibly impactful for me and exciting to learn how to do.”

Oktay specifically looked for a mix of engineering and liberal arts during his college search, and felt Lafayette was the place to find it. While constructing the tree swings, Oktay realized how that mix could bring his thinking to the next level. He was able to bring a socio-technical design lens to the project, soliciting feedback from stakeholders and considering the emotional and social impact of the physical design. 

“It was a really awesome experience [to see] how powerful our community is, and how powerful Lafayette is in educating people to see so many different angles,” Oktay says. “That takes something from just being good to being great.” 

Remy Okay smiles in front of the plane.

For the past three years, Oktay has served as an innovation lead for the Dyer Center, which offers a four-year fellowship that helps foster entrepreneurship and fund innovation projects. Oktay has relished the opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurial students through the program. 

“There are so many awesome students that I’ve interacted with both inside and outside of the fellowship who have fantastic ideas. I’ve been able to spark that same kind of spirit and fire in a bunch of first-, second-, and third-year students, encouraging them to get out there and start doing stuff and exploring,” Oktay says. “This has been really, really rewarding.”

Among his accomplishments, Oktay also conducted research through the Bergh Family Fellow Summer Research scholarship, and is a Marquis Fellow. After graduation, Oktay plans to spend his summer finalizing the next phase of the swings, working with the Lafayette Patent Program to patent the technology and launching a company that will bring the swings to other campuses and green spaces across the country. 

Whether it’s through connecting humans to nature, raising awareness of the climate crisis, or just having fun together, Oktay focuses his passion and his drive on one thing: community. 

“I want people to feel connected. We’re going to be alumni longer than we were students,” Oktay says. “I’d love to be able to rally our class in a way that makes everybody feel represented, which is hopefully a catalyst for remaining a community that looks out for each other after graduation.” 

And what’s his advice for that community? 

“Let’s dream about what the world could be like, and start fighting for that.” 

Categorized in: Academic News, Class of 2024, Commencement 2024, Engineering, Engineering Studies, Environmental Studies, Featured News, News and Features, Student Profiles, Students
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