State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Students Learn from Faculty, Alumni about Energy Efficiency Careers

April 17th’s Mini-Career Workshop on Energy Efficiency featured a panel discussion among Earth Institute faculty and alumni. Panelists from left to right: Luke Falk, Erin McNally, Laura Humphrey, Anastasia Wright. Photo: George Sarrinikolaou

The Earth Institute is expanding its professional development program with the addition of mini-career workshops that focus on particular areas of sustainability. The first of these workshops, which took place on April 17, focused on energy efficiency. The purpose of the workshops is to provide opportunities to students to learn from faculty and alumni who are practitioners in various sustainability fields. Offering these workshops was one of the recommendations of the Professional Development Task Force, which is comprised of students, faculty and staff in the M.S. in Sustainability Management program.

The workshop featured a panel discussion among Luke Falk, sustainability manager at Related and an instructor of the sustainability management course, Energy Analysis for Energy Efficiency; Laura Humphrey, manager, Energy Efficiency Division for ICF International (MSSM ’13); Erin McNally, project manager, energy efficiency, at Luthin Associates (MSSM ’13); and Anastasia Wright, program manager, Willdan Energy Solutions (MPA-ESP ’11).

All of the panelists said they came to energy efficiency as a second career, after having worked in fields ranging from music to finance. Generally, the field appealed to them for its environmental significance and its readily quantifiable nature (i.e. energy saved). There was consensus that the field is growing because of government incentives for energy efficiency, but also because of the promise to reduce energy costs.

Some 30 students attended the event to learn about careers in energy efficiency. The students were particularly interested in learning how their coursework could better prepare them for the work in this sector. Laura Humphrey (’13) said that Professor Lynnette Widder’s course, Responsibility and Resilience in the Built Environment, was especially important to her understanding of the field.

Anastasia Wright counseled students to take engineering courses that covered some of the technical aspects of buildings’ mechanical systems. Professor Luke Falk, who teaches popular classes in energy efficiency, suggested a course in construction management. But he also said that, in addition to the technical skills, energy efficiency practitioners needed to be skilled in persuasion, relationship-building, and an understanding of the use of behavioral norms and how to apply them in influencing building managers and occupants.

The alumni on the panel, all three of whom work in consulting firms with energy efficiency practices, said that experience working for an energy utility was especially prized in their firms.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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