AASHE Student Diary Series: The GREEN Life
This installment of the AASHE Bulletin Sustainability Student Diary series features Rutgers University student Jamie Lewis, who profiles GREEN, the Global Renewable Energy Education Network. Read on to learn how three students turned an idea conjured up in their dorm into a successful study abroad experience. We hope to see questions and feedback in the comments area! Submit diary entries of your own for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the story of three Rutgers University students with a simple idea born in the hopes of educating and showing their peers the ever-expanding world of renewable energy. Three years, 155 students, 12 professors, 50 Universities and 15 programs later, this idea is now known as GREEN, the Global Renewable Energy Education Network.
Melissa Lee, Mikhail Naumov, and Benjamin Lapidus created GREEN in the comfort of their dorms as a program that provides its students with a 12-day educational adventure of a lifetime; exploring rain forests, swimming in waterfalls and soaking up the sun. Sound appealing? This is college student's short term study abroad dream! More importantly, these 12 days - while packed with fun and adventure - are spent learning about the ever-advancing world of sustainability. Costa Rica is the epicenter of renewable energy, where five different forms of renewable energy (hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, wind and solar power) are within driving distance of one another. Not only does this make for an incredible experience for students from universities all over the country, but it also allows Costa Rica to power 80 percent of the country with clean renewable energy!
Students also get the satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference in the lives of the Costa Rican people or, ticos, as they refer to themselves. GREEN students give back to the community and install rainwater collection systems in low-income government homes, providing families with water. The students also help teach English to the local children, plant trees for carbon sequestering and work on innovative research in the field of renewable energy. The GREEN program has accelerated students’ careers by providing them with a global experience, educational resources and the network they need to stand out in a pool of normalcy.
If you watch the videos of students immersed in the GREEN life, you will hear their exclamations that GREEN is the experience of a lifetime. It is one thing to learn about renewable energy in the classroom, and another to see it first-hand in a country that "got sustainability right." GREEN is the only program that can provide students with the opportunity to take prior knowledge about sustainability and renewable energy and put it into action; thus bridging the gap between traditional textbook learning and hands-on experience. A few key words can sum it up: "12-day adventure," "jam-packed," "short study abroad," "experiential service learning" "career accelerator."
The GREEN experience does not end when students leave paradise. GREEN students are required to collaborate on a capstone project in which they come up with an initiative or energy innovation to implement back home at their own university or hometown. Many of these capstone projects have been successfully taken from the "draft" stage to implementation. GREEN program alumni Robert Shintani and Anthony Hornbeck from the University of Illinois came up with the idea of taking leftover oil from restaurants in the area and turning it into biofuel as their capstone project. Taking the experience and knowledge they had gained in Costa Rica, and the proposal they developed in the GREEN program, they went back home to Illinois and successfully started a real company implementing their project ideas, as well as a Clean City Coalition in Urbana Champaign.
GREEN alumni are also taking their experience and knowledge into the workforce. What could be more appealing to an energy or engineering company than a student who not only has a degree in a related field, but also has the hands-on experience, cultural awareness and experiential experience to back it up? GREEN alumni success stories validate the motivation for students to make a conscious decision to be "GREEN."
Roy Anderson from Rutgers University is now working for Bechtel, which has been named the top U.S. contractor in 2011 by Engineering News-Record. Zach Hamber from San Diego State University is currently in Costa Rica for a pilot GREEN certification program; a follow-up experience available only to GREEN alumni. Zach works at GrupoEcoEnergia, a privately owned company that develops, operates and maintains clean energy projects, represents other environmentally friendly companies and provides consulting services. Zach is now certified as a wind turbine technician at the AeroEnergia Plant.
Dan Conner from Penn State University wrote in his testimonial: "GREEN gave me the confidence to send my resume to as many companies as I could find that I was interested in." Dan’s confidence landed him interviews with four different organizations and he received three job offers. He accepted a co-op with General Electric Energy. He is now working on an advanced combustion team working to make gas turbines more efficient. Dan wrote that "GREEN gave me an edge in the interview process because when I said I was very interested in a career in alternative energy and sustainability, I was not just talking. I had something to show for it." This is just another example of the incomparable experience students gain from the GREEN program, as well as the countless ways it can help to advance your career. In fact, two of our own GREEN alumni, Joelle Zerillo and Thomas Brady Halligan, felt so strongly about the GREEN program, that they now work full-time for GREEN!
Another student from Rutgers University, David Byrnes, landed a summer internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture which sent him to Brazil to study new crops for biofuels. David commented on his internship, stating: "The selection panel was impressed with my trip to Costa Rica with the GREEN program. I got to tell them that I studied renewable resources in Costa Rica and presented to industry professionals how duckweed would be a feasible crop for biofuels. Another great reason for students to take the ride with GREEN."
More feedback from students and the parents of those who have attended the GREEN program can be found on the website.
GREEN maintains its own Alumni Network for students who have successfully completed the GREEN program, where they can share their experiences through photos and videos; as well as blog and stay in touch with the life-long friends they have made on their educational adventure. The GREEN Alumni Network also provides alumni with news from the field of sustainability, as well as information about related jobs and internships. Alumni use the network to continue working on their capstone projects with like-minded students. Some even refer to the Alumni Network as the “GREEN Facebook.”
As a student myself, it is refreshing to see and partake in the entrepreneurial spirit the owners of this company embody and instill in all who have taken a step into the GREEN life. GREEN provides students with a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about renewable energy and sustainability first-hand, while gaining credit through their university, all while having a great time exploring the world around them! GREEN continues to grow and expand to share this amazing experience with more students and universities. The initiative was started by students, for students, in order to provide a GREENer, more sustainable future for generations to come.
For more information about the GREEN program, email email@example.com. Also connect with GREEN on Facebook and Twitter.
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