During the 2022 Midwest Energy Solutions Conference, MEEA welcomed 11 students from across the Midwest to join more than 400 industry professionals in Chicago. The scholarship, generously sponsored by ComEd, covered registration, hotel and travel costs for each student to attend the conference. The scholarship was open to college, graduate and trade students from our 13-state footprint.
This year’s recipients, Ayush Chobe (University of Illinois at Chicago), Dorian Cyubahiro (Bradley University), Giulianna Giordano (Calvin University), Ken Hultquist (University of Illinois at Chicago), Ritvik Jain (University of Michigan), Fahman Khan (Bradley University), Rishi Madethatt (University of Michigan), Saarah Maxon (University of Michigan), Saif Ur Rehman (University of Michigan), Jesus Villanueva (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Alexandra Yount (University of Missouri-Columbia), joined industry professionals in Chicago for the three-day event. The students attended different sessions, trainings and workshops to learn more about energy efficiency and partake in discussions on industry topics. They also joined networking events and receptions to meet and connect with industry professionals.
A few of the scholarship recipients – Ayush Chobe, Giulianna Giordano, Ken Hultquist, Fahman Khan, Rishi Madethatt, Saarah Maxon and Alexandra Yount – talked with us after the conference about their experiences at MES and shared their advice for other students looking to enter the energy efficiency industry.
Q: What was your overall impression of the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference?
Giordano: I really enjoyed my experience at MES as it significantly grew my understanding about the energy efficiency industry, how the Midwest region is doing, and most importantly I was able to expand my network by meeting people that have similar passions and interests as me in regard to energy.
Hultquist: Overall, I had a positive experience. It was an interesting point of view into the energy efficiency industry. Being that it was comprised of a mix of corporations in both size and sector, there were a lot of varying viewpoints to be had and depending on who you spoke to you would get a nuanced response to certain topics.
Khan: It was a great networking and learning experience. The breakout sessions were very informative. It was nice to meet representatives of various companies who were not only very friendly but also took the time to educate the upcoming talent about the industry. I was able to build a lot of connections and a couple of people introduced me to recruiters in the industry and scheduled some interviews!
Q: How did you hear about this scholarship and why did you decide to apply?
Chobe: The Professor of my college (Prof. William Ryan) passed us the information regarding the MEEA Scholarship. I decided to apply for this to make good connections and network. I wanted to hear the perspectives of the people who are already established in this area.
Madethatt: I heard about the scholarship through the college careers email chain… As someone whose current research is in energy efficiency and fuel switching, I was keen to apply. It felt like an amazing opportunity to network and to understand the landscape of not just Michigan, the state that I currently live in, but a bigger Midwest region.
Yount: The Midwest Energy Solutions Conference scholarship was promoted by my school, the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Engineering. I have experience with power generation and intend to specialize in energy efficiency; it isn’t often that I see opportunities like this scholarship and conference! My biggest hope was to gain connections, networking experience, and exposure to real-world industry.
Q: What was your favorite part of the experience?
Giordano: I really enjoyed the panels as there were multiple offered at the same time, so I could choose which one I was more interested in. The panels brought up great discussions among the panelists as they were all able to share about what they do. Conversations continued after the session as panelists were more than happy to speak with students and others interested in further discussion. A number of panelists I spoke with after helped answer my questions and also offered to keep in touch. Ultimately, the panels helped contribute to connections and increased my knowledge of the industry!
Maxon: My favorite part of the experience was having the opportunity to walk around and speak with companies and organizations. I can confidently say that one of my conversations influenced how I want to take my academic and professional career in the future. This experience truly helped me define my interests and learn about what kinds of opportunities there are in the field of energy efficiency.
Yount: What I enjoyed the most were the times I was able to have conversations with other conference attendees, in both informational and leisure settings. Talking with other students about their experiences and knowledge was very enriching. Having dinner and drinks with consultants, project managers, and executives was an exciting experience (and helpful in the ways of career prospects)!
Q: Did you learn anything there that surprised you?
Khan: I learned about various new technologies in the break-out sessions like EV Forklifts, retrofitting refrigerants etc. that have a huge potential to reduce emissions.
Maxon: One thing I learned that surprised me is just how difficult it is to make a large campus like a university more energy efficient. A campus operates as if it were a small city where the number and needs of every building are vastly different from each other making the transition to energy efficiency somewhat of a challenge. I also learned that university campuses seem to function as microcosms representative of larger cities. This allows campuses to be used as case studies to test solutions that may benefit larger-scale energy efficiency transitions in the United States.
Yount: I was surprised by the number of companies and individuals involved in energy efficiency programs and businesses. I have little exposure to those kinds of things here in mid-Missouri. It was promising to see that there is progress being made towards carbon neutrality and environmental responsibility. In addition, it seems there are more career prospects in the industry than I had previously thought.
Q: How did the conference complement your education and/or career goals?
Chobe: This conference is definitely going to have an impact on my career goal as now I think I figured out the direction in which I have to shape my career trajectory as I met different people and got to know about their jobs in this area.
Giordano: I aspire to work in the technological side of the energy efficiency industry. Through MES, I was able to learn more about companies and what products already exist. In addition, many people were so happy to give advice to us, the students, regarding internships and future job possibilities.
Hultquist: The conference covered many topics that I study in my degree, i.e. grid infrastructure, electric demand now and future, CHP, efficiency programs, legislation, and more. I was able to network two potential interviews from booths at the conference.
Q: Please share any advice you would give to future recipients.
Hultquist: If there are specific things you want to learn more about, try your best to research them ahead of time in order to have questions ready. There are numerous experts attending from various fields that you could potentially learn from, but you have to know the right questions to ask.
Khan: Don't miss opportunities like these, and when you attend one, talk to as many people as you can and get their contact details/LinkedIn.
Madethatt: Chicago is an amazing city and has amazing networks. Have a system in place to keep everyone’s emails and have a template email prepared to send your contact information out. Don’t be shy – go and say hi, everyone is really welcoming and always open to having a conversation.
Yount: My advice would be to branch out and network with professionals as much as possible and have confidence doing so; I spent a lot of time with attendees from various companies, which was intimidating to start out, but they were eager to talk about the industry, their companies, and my experience as a student. I had a great time hearing from many different perspectives and paths of life.
We appreciate the scholarship recipients for attending MES and sharing their experiences with us for future applicants, and would like to would like to again express our gratitude to ComEd for sponsoring the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference Scholarship!
*Please note: some responses have been edited for clarity and length.