Dozens of undergraduate and graduate students from across Duke University are taking deep dives into the energy industry this summer. Many connected with their internship opportunities thanks to the interdisciplinary Energy Internship Program, and 21 received supplementary funding through the program.
Created by the Duke University Energy Initiative in 2019, the program identified more internship listings than ever for summer 2021, including opportunities at start-ups, utilities, renewable energy developers, large firms, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies.
As in the past, students could apply to the Energy Internship Program for financial assistance if offered unpaid or low-paying positions. Thanks to a partnership with the Energy Access Project, some funding was reserved for internships related to energy access or energy transitions in low- and middle-income countries.
One of the students funded by this year’s program is Will Slap, who is pursuing dual master’s degrees in business administration and environmental management at the Fuqua School of Business and Nicholas School of the Environment. Will is a finance intern at BlocPower, a climate technology startup that retrofits buildings in disadvantaged communities with clean energy projects, helping lower utility bills and create jobs. Founded by Duke University alumnus Donnel Baird (’03), BlocPower has garnered national attention with its creative approach to advancing sustainable energy, energy efficiency, and economic development in American cities.
“I'm able to take the modeling and strategy tools I've learned at Duke and put them to work in service of decarbonizing buildings and expanding access to those who traditionally have been marginalized and left out of the green economy,” Slap reflected. “I'm so grateful to the Energy Initiative, the Fuqua School of Business’s Summer Internship Fund, and the BlocPower team for this opportunity.”
Tina Machado, a rising junior at the Pratt School of Engineering, received funding for her project management internship with Sustaining Way, a nonprofit that uses education, collaboration and advocacy to create sustainable, caring and equitable communities. “I am getting real-life experience working with sustainability and energy efficiency that I would not otherwise have,” reported Machado. “I am making great connections with my coworkers and enjoying every minute of the internship.”
“We want to be able to connect as many Duke students as possible to real-world experiences with the energy industry,” explained Dr. Brian Murray, interim director of the recently merged Energy Initiative and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. “Thanks to a network of Duke alumni and friends, we’ve been able to match more students to new opportunities. I’m deeply grateful for their generosity and look forward to continuing to grow the Energy Internship Program.”
The Energy Internship Program provided supplementary funding to 21 undergraduate and graduate students in the summer of 2021:
- Scott Burstein, a rising senior majoring in earth and climate sciences at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, is a summer intern at Standard Normal.
- Jeff Fromuth, who is pursuing a master's degree in environmental management at the Nicholas School of the Environment, is a summer intern at The North Carolina Clean Energy Fund.
- Abhinav Jain, a rising junior majoring in economics at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, is a summer intern at Terrafuse, Inc.
- Rajat Khandelwal, who is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental management at the Nicholas School of the Environment, is a summer intern at the Indo-German Energy Forum. **
- Pierce King, who is pursuing an MBA degree at the Fuqua School of Business, is interning at Clean Energy Ventures.
- Colin Lee, a rising senior studying energy mechanics and geopolitics in the Middle East at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, is a summer intern at Aspire Power Solutions. **
- Harry Lord, who is pursuing a master’s degree in management studies at the Fuqua School of Business, is interning at EQ Research.
- Christina Machado, a rising junior majoring in electrical and computer engineering at the Pratt School of Engineering, is a summer intern at Sustaining Way.
- Kate Neal, a rising junior majoring in environmental sciences at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, is a summer intern at SmartBlock Communities.
- Jonathan Peralta, who is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental management at the Nicholas School of the Environment and an MBA from UNC's Kenan-Flagler School of Business, is a summer intern at Aspire Power Solutions. **
- Hope Pratt, a rising sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering at the Pratt School of Engineering, is a summer intern at Aspire Power Solutions. **
- Jose Pumarejo, who is pursuing an MBA at the Fuqua School of Business and a master’s degree in public policy from the Sanford School of Public Policy, is interning with the Doing Business Project at The World Bank. **
- Casey Schoff, a rising sophomore student majoring in economics and public policy at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, is a summer intern at Ecolytics.
- Swetha Sekhar, a rising sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering at the Pratt School of Engineering and computer science at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, is a summer intern at Ecolytics.
- Sagar Shah, a rising senior studying public policy at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, is a summer intern with the U.S. Department of Energy’s State Energy Program.
- Will Slap, who is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental management from the Nicholas School of the Environment and an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business, is a summer intern at BlocPower.
- Ava Weinreb, a rising senior majoring in environmental sciences and policy at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, is a summer intern at Advanced Energy Economy.
- Michael Wood, a rising junior majoring in mechanical engineering at the Pratt School of Engineering, is a summer intern at Varea Energy.
- Katherine Wu, who is pursuing a master’s degree in engineering management at the Pratt School of Engineering, is a summer intern at Lyft.
- Winston Yau, a rising senior majoring in public policy and physics at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, is a summer intern at Prime Impact Fund.
- Erin Yu, a rising sophomore majoring in environmental sciences and policy at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, is a summer intern at SmartBlock Communities.
** denotes the student received funding from the Energy Access Project at Duke
Questions about the Energy Internship Program?
Contact Stacy Peterson: email@example.com.
Duke students’ Bass Connections research on energy access and data analytics comes together in a final energy presentation on synthetic imagery used to improve automated wind turbine detection in satellite imagery, especially when applied to diverse locations.
Efforts to ensure energy access across the globe are often hampered by a lack of critical information to guide decision-making and electricity system planning. Information on village-level electricity access and reliability, as well as the location and characteristics of power system infrastructure, is especially scarce. Decision-makers require this information to determine the optimal strategies for deploying energy resources, like where to prioritize development and whether electrification should be accomplished through grid expansion, micro-grids, or distributed generation.
During the 2020-2021 school year, a Bass Connections research team at Duke University aimed to develop deep learning techniques that can automatically and rapidly scan massive volumes of remotely sensed data, such as satellite imagery, to develop detailed maps of energy infrastructure. These deep learning approaches may provide powerful tools for researchers, policy-makers, and governments to collect energy systems information. This video captures the Bass Connections team’s end-of-year presentation in April 2021.
The team used machine learning to create a model that detected wind turbines solely from satellite imagery by training it first with real images of turbines. Since these images are scarce and in practice the machine learning techniques need to be applied to different locations than from where the training data are available, this approach was compared to data resulting from a model which also was trained on synthetic images of wind turbines. Synthetic images, while they might look real to the machine, are generated images and are not genuine photos. Feeding the model synthetic images of wind turbines increased the accuracy or “average precision” of the predicted turbine location.
Bass Connections is a unique Duke University program that brings together faculty, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates, and external partners to tackle complex societal challenges in interdisciplinary research teams.
Student Team Members: Ada Ye (T'23), Jessie Ou (T'22), Wendy Zhang (T'21), Eddy Lin (T'22), Tyler Feldman (T'23), and Jose Moscoso (MIDS '21)
Faculty Team Leaders: Kyle Bradbury (Pratt School of Engineering and Managing Director of the Energy Data Analytics Lab at the Duke University Energy Initiative) and Jordan Malof (Pratt School of Engineering)
Learn more about the project:
The Career and Professional Development Center at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment assembled a group of energy professionals to advise students on advancing their careers during this challenging time. The webinar was conducted in partnership with the Energy Initiative, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and the Nicholas School Energy Club.
Here’s some of the wisdom that industry experts dropped during a virtual panel discussion:
1 - Your network is more important now than ever.
Everyone is busy these days, but that doesn’t mean your network can’t be there for you. In times like these, when online job postings are harder to find, check in with your professional connections. When reaching out, be sure that you are sensitive to the difficulties that your contact may be going through due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is a numbers game, but I also think that you can spend a lot of time just doing [job] applications. And I’ve known people who have done hundreds and hundreds of applications. I have always taken the approach of building relationships, and I’ve always been a person who has done very few applications.” – Melissa Semcer, MEM '07, Program Manager, Wildfire Safety Division, California Public Utilities Commission
“Ask, ‘Who else would you recommend, and would you be willing to introduce me to them?’… Definitely ask for more contacts as you go through.” – Nicole Buell, MEM '11, Democratic Professional Staff Member, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Senate
“When you reach out, just do it very thoughtfully… For a lot of us now, we’re working full time and we have kids at home and it’s very distracting.” – Hannah Polikov, T '05/JD '08, Managing Director, Public Utility Commission Program, Advanced Energy Economy
“For each contact, you have to be very specific about your outreach. You need to know why you are trying to talk to this person and you need to have done your homework prior to talking to this person.” – Tian Qiao, MEM ‘17, Associate Consultant, Siemens
2 - Persevere.
The process of finding a job or internship takes time, and many job seekers have been thrown off their leads by the pandemic. It is important to not get discouraged and find a way to organize information about your job search. Try developing an Excel tool or other system to help you keep track of your progress and connections to help you to stay positive.
“I wanted to go to the Hill for three years, and I just kept the conversations going and eventually one of the contacts that I made was the reason that I ended up getting my foot in the door.” – Nicole Buell, MEM '11, Democratic Professional Staff Member, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Senate
“There will be a cure to the COVID-19 crisis, but there will be virtually no cure for the climate crisis. [After the pandemic] the renewable energy industry will still be an important industry.” – Tian Qiao, MEM ‘17, Associate Consultant, Siemens
3 - Learn what your priorities are, and what you can be flexible on.
The reality is that not everyone will get their dream internship or job. It is important to know what your highest priorities are for your next job, and to identify aspects of the job that you are willing to be flexible on. For instance, if you know for certain that you want to work somewhere in New York, you may need to take a different type of role than you were expecting to make that locational goal happen.
“What’s really important is… getting clear on what you really want, like getting clear on what really, really matters to you, but also allowing for flexibility. So for me I really wanted to go out West. I really wanted to experience that part of the country and I had to get really flexible about what job I took… I ended up finding a great career that I never could have envisioned.” – Melissa Semcer, MEM '07, Program Manager, Wildfire Safety Division, California Public Utilities Commission
4 - If you can’t find something right away, make use of the gap period!
Staying proactive about your career during a lull period is crucial. You may find yourself taking a job that’s not in your chosen field, just to make ends meet and fill a gap period. If this happens, you can still use your free time to read articles about the industry or volunteer with an industry organization. And keep in mind that your career detour will likely give you new skills that can help when you return to the industry. Just make sure to stay connected during the gap period.
“If you can’t travel and you’re in North Carolina… there are a lot of local organizations you can get involved in… Everyone is quite connected, the state players really connect with the national players… Getting a handle of how things move at the state level is a really good place to start.” – Caroline Golin, Senior Regulatory Policy Lead, Google
“The more skillsets that you can acquire will help you later on. It’s something really valuable to have. We always look for people that are adaptable and can handle a lot of ambiguity, who can slot into different spaces and learn quickly.” – Caroline Golin, Senior Regulatory Policy Lead, Google
“If you do something else [during your gap period], do something to stay relevant in this space… If you have to do something else, no one is going to hold that against you, but stay relevant in some way.” – Hannah Polikov, T '05/JD '08, Managing Director, Public Utility Commission Program, Advanced Energy Economy
5 - Plenty of places are still hiring, but you may need to broaden your search.
If you have been looking only at positions in private industry, try looking at government agency postings, as many still seem to be hiring at pre-pandemic rates. Also, you might be limiting yourself geographically without even knowing it—try looking at some of the local organizations that work in your field. Even if they aren’t where you want to end up permanently, you will probably learn something that will prove useful later in your career.
“Even though the economy is really sketchy, organizations still need people… for example, I am building my entire team.” – Melissa Semcer, MEM '07, Program Manager, Wildfire Safety Division, California Public Utilities Commission
Meanwhile, take advantage of these resources...
- Your Duke Career Center can connect you with employment opportunities, advising, and resources.
- Any Duke student interested in an energy career can request a virtual advising appointment with Stacy Peterson, assistant director for student and alumni engagement at the Energy Initiative.
- Students interested in energy research careers or learning more about what it's like to work at a federal agency can request a virtual advising appointment with Dr. Eric Rohlfing, executive-in-residence at the Energy Initiative (formerly of the U.S. Department of Energy and ARPA-E).
- Subscribe to the Energy Initiative's email newsletter for postings, events, and more.
Will Foster is a 2019-2020 graduate student assistant at the Duke University Energy Initiative. He is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental management (MEM) at the Nicholas School of the Environment and a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) at the Fuqua School of Business.