Twenty-four Duke students funded as energy sector interns

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Tuesday, Jun 30, 2020 - 9:05 am

In late February 2020, many of the student emails in Stacy Peterson’s inbox were studded with exclamation points. “I kept hearing from Duke students who were choosing among multiple energy internship offers,” recalled Peterson, assistant director for student and alumni engagement at the Duke University Energy Initiative.  

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. A substantial number of internships evaporated, with companies closing searches or retracting offers. Eager for hands-on experience in the energy sector, many undergraduate and graduate students at Duke felt devastated. 

The Energy Initiative team sprang into action.

Supporting students’ self-advocacy

First, the team developed guidance for students with internship offers in hand. “Many of our industry contacts had never considered remote internships before,” said Peterson. “So we thought, ‘What if we prepare Duke students to pitch doing things differently?’” 

The team developed tips, a list of Duke resources, and a sample email that students could use to propose that their face-to-face internships be conducted remotely. (Much of the document was applicable across industries, so several other Duke entities distributed it to non-energy students as well.) 

While students often had to wait for answers as companies struggled with more immediate challenges, some employers eventually green-lighted the remote positions they proposed.

Making the most of the Energy Initiative Internship Program

Meanwhile, the team also looked for ways to leverage its existing internship program. Now in its second year, the program connects Duke students from all degree programs with summer opportunities across the energy sector and provides stipend assistance. 

When companies began to cancel summer listings, the Energy Initiative launched an email and social media campaign calling on alumni and industry contacts to create new remote opportunities for Duke students. The Duke network responded immediately with new listings for the program, helping many students to salvage their summers. (The program is now closed to new listings for summer 2020.)  

Financial pressures meant some companies could not afford stipends for the new remote internship positions. Thanks to alumni gifts before and during the pandemic, the Energy Initiative was able to support twenty students’ remote internships. The Energy Access Project at Duke assisted in supporting one of these and fully funded another four. Most of the funded positions are with startups and small companies, often with Duke alumni serving as mentors.

picture of energy interns at Joules Accelerator.
Sofia Hornstein (E'22) (bottom left) and Sam Pollan (MEM/MBA’21) (bottom right) are remote summer interns at Joules Accelerator. They’re pictured here with executive director Bob Irvin (MEM'79) (top right) and director of business Ryan Rutledge (top left).

Engineering student Sofia Hornstein (E’22) says she’s learning a lot from being an intern at Joules Accelerator during the pandemic: “I have a front-row seat to how entrepreneurs from Joules’s current cohort of eight start-ups and their advisors are figuring out how to deal with unexpected challenges.” One of Hornstein’s favorite projects so far is helping to organize Tech Lemonade 2.0 (July 8), a virtual event focused on the role of innovation in corporate sustainability.

Chemistry major Anna Smirnova (T’22) is interning at Advanced Energy Economy, where alumna Hannah Polikov (T '05/JD '08) was instrumental in creating new remote positions. “I was disappointed when my other plans fell through, but this internship has been amazing,” commented Smirnova. “Getting to use my technical background in this context has given me confidence in the flexibility of the analytical skills I'm learning at Duke. I’m really grateful to the Energy Initiative and Advanced Energy Economy for helping make sure I have a productive summer.” 

“The Duke community has been so solutions-focused throughout this pandemic,” said Energy Initiative director Dr. Brian Murray. “This is just one example of how the Duke network of alumni and friends has  mobilized to advance student learning and professional development opportunities during this time.”

Students financially supported by the program in summer 2020 include: 

Quinn Beckham (T’22) - Carolina Solar Energy
Scott Burstein (T’22) - Nth Cycle
Elena Cavallero (T’21) - Prime Impact
Vanessa Chen (T’23) - Sunforge
Samantha Dilley (T’23) - Shine
Julia Dworetzky (E’21) - Vie Technologies
Will Foster (MEM/MBA‘22) - Blueprint
Aneesh Gupta (E'22, T’22) - ANB Systems
Cameron Hawkins (MEM/MBA‘22) - New Balance
Sofia Hornstein (E’22) - Joules Accelerator
Ivy Jiang (T’21) - Sunforge
Chris Lazinski (MEM/MBA‘21) - North Carolina Utilities Commission
Shawn Li (MEM’21) - Schneider Electric
Marie McNamara (MEM'21) - Energicity
Merle Nye (T'21) - OnePower
Shannon Parker (MEM/MBA‘21) - Sustainability Defined
Sam Pollan (MEM/MBA‘21) - Joules Accelerator
Rajat Pungaliya (MEM’21) - SmartBlock Communities
Eric Reynolds (MBA'21) - Aspire Power Solutions
William Reynolds (T’23) - Aera VC
Isaac Rosenthal (MEM'21) - Power for All
Anna Smirnova (T’22) - Advanced Energy Economy
Nicolas Villar-Poblete (MEM’22) - Advanced Energy Economy
Michael Wood (E’23) - Streamline Innovations

Questions about the Energy Initiative Internship Program? Contact Stacy Peterson,

Want to make a gift to support the Energy Initiative’s educational programming? You can give online or contact Mary Catherine Hall, Duke Development.

Is your company interested in tapping into the Duke student talent pool in 2021? We’ll begin accepting listings in late 2020. Join our email list for updates.

Location: The Generator, 100C Gross Hall
Time: 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm