MIT Energy Initiative

The energy minor: A student perspective

December 20, 2011 MITEI

This fall marks the MIT Energy Studies Minor’s third year in action. Below, three students describe how the minor has affected their academic lives and career plans.

Meet the students

Paul Youchak ’11 majored in nuclear engineering and minored in economics as well as energy studies. He is now at Stanford University in a one-year master’s program in management science and engineering.

Lucy Fan ’12 is a senior in chemical engineering and has already completed the Energy Studies Minor requirements. She interned this past summer with Exelon Corporation and hopes to secure an energy industry job after she graduates.

Kesavan Yogeswaran ’11 is a master’s student at MIT who majored in electrical engineering as an undergraduate. His current project in the MIT Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems involves an improved design for electric converters in solar panels.

What is your area of interest in energy?

Paul: I’m focused on the geopolitical and economic issues involved in the spread of nuclear technology worldwide. Many nations that find nuclear energy of potential interest have concerns that are proving to be a huge roadblock to achieving technological exchange and free trade.

Lucy: Right now, I like the idea of wind energy, given the great potential for wind development in the United States. I can see myself working on better storage to incorporate wind and solar into the energy mix.

Kesavan: It will probably be some application of power electronics for energy systems. I’m also interested in learning more about developing and improving the electrical grid, ideally for alternative energy–related companies.

Why did you choose to pursue the energy minor?

Lucy: As soon as I heard about the minor, I had to do it. Because energy drives the modern way of life, and increased consumption will have a dramatic impact on the environment, I wanted to understand it better. The energy minor would provide a larger picture of which technologies could offer the most potential.

Paul: After watching An Inconvenient Truth in high school, I began to take global warming seriously, and I decided that in college I wanted to study something to do with the energy industry. At MIT, I majored in nuclear engineering. During my sophomore year, I learned the energy minor included opportunities to take economics and policy classes specifically related to energy, and I thought this was what I was looking for all along.

What was most memorable about your experience with energy at MIT (academic, research, extracurricular)?

Kesavan: The summer between my junior and senior year, I had an internship with Joby Energy, a startup working on an airborne wind turbine, a kind of wing with propellers tethered to the ground, flying like a kite. I thought the idea was really revolutionary. Everyone there was passionate about the project and so driven.

Paul: My favorite class, which I took the final semester of my senior year, was 15.031J, Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies. It was interdisciplinary and offered topics I’d never covered in engineering or economics classes, like how you find ways to convince people to become more energy conscious, or why businesses fail to make investments to reduce energy consumption when it makes economic sense.

How has the energy minor affected what you do now and what your plans are for the future?

Lucy: The energy minor opened my eyes to the complexity of the energy problem, that it is bigger than just one technology, and that there’s not a single solution. The minor also shaped my plans, because it had me looking at energy from the economics and policy side. I am now thinking about getting into the business end of energy—perhaps promoting the competitiveness of renewable technologies. Without the minor, I would have been more technologically focused.

Kesavan: The minor convinced me that I would like to work in the energy sector. The classes also showed me how to put potential technological solutions for the energy problem in perspective. It gave me a well-rounded foundation for the work I hope to do in the power electronics field.

Paul: The minor got me interested in the politics and economics of the energy challenge. I want to be involved in decision-making on the policy and strategy side for the energy industry. I could work for a government organization such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy, or for the private sector. In 10 years, I hope to be in a position where I can help decide which avenues a company should explore or what kind of research the government should support.

This article appears in the issue of Energy Futures, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative. Subscribe today

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