There was a theme of hope and optimistic innovation in the atmosphere today at the Student Union, as the University of Connecticut hosted its Clean Energy and Sustainability Summit in conjunction with Eversource.
The event sought to bring together environmentalist student organizations, faculty members focused on the climate crisis and state-level energy providers to develop and share ideas about advancing the cause of sustainable energy.
Colorful poster boards dotted the room, as the event hosted a wide range of clubs and student groups — such as EcoHusky and Fossil Fuel Free UConn — with the opportunity to advertise themselves and their causes in order to draw members.
The fact that each of these groups had a unique approach — whether it be petitioning, marching, engineering possible solutions or focusing on policy changes — to tackle their own little sphere of the climate crisis brought a sense of youthful hope to the daunting issue at hand.
The level of academic research presented at the event was a staple. While there was an abundance of graduate and doctoral research on display — including the poster boards of PhDs interested in environmental and electrical engineering — undergraduate students were uniquely in the position to collaborate too.
Poster boards detailing strategies and technologies that could be implemented were on display, featuring information on developer selection, funding options, energy generation and construction. In other words, students passionate about waging war on the climate crisis had clearly done their homework, and their progress was on full display in this melting pot of industrial and academic innovation.
Alongside mentors — who were often professors — students in both CLAS and the School of Engineering investigated issues such as solar forecasting and the challenges to traditional electricity grids. In many cases, these projects were supported by Eversource, which also provided mentors to students.
The visibility and transparency of the energy companies there demonstrated a genuine desire to work with students and faculty to arrive at sustainable solutions, and this was enough to make any attendee just a smidge more hopeful — truly, UConn is a center for innovation.
Another important element of the event was the opportunities that it afforded attendees to network with energy providers, who sought to hire creative and industrious undergraduates. Alumni and current students alike passed back and forth between tables, sharing résumés and learning about internship or co-op opportunities within the energy industry. From environmental engineers to anthropologists, these companies were looking for dedicated individuals in a plethora of fields to join their ranks.
It was beautiful to see this three way exchange of progress: Students who had (or were currently) learning about environmental solutions in class were able to apply for jobs in the industry and in turn, effect real-world change.
UConn’s own Center for Career Development was present to provide résumé guidance, pass out booklets with advice for résumés and CV development and support students’ endeavors in job applications.
Throughout the day, a multitude of high-level speakers talked about organic topics. Amongst them were Governor Ned Lamont and Gina McCarthy, the first-ever White House national climate advisor.
Towards the end of the day, Oksan Bayulgen, the head of the political science department, hosted a talk with three undergraduates who were, or had been, environmentalism-related club leaders. The group included the founder of Fossil Fuel Free UConn. Each student described their initial experience with environmentalism and what drew them to get involved with the organizations that they did. Each person was unique, and no two trajectories crossed.
In a way, the interconnectedness of the university’s professors, students and energy partners formed its own academic ecosystem that was on full display at today’s fair. While the climate is perhaps in its most dire state, it was incredibly assuring to know that there are dedicated folks throughout the university working eagerly to instigate true change.