A Q&A with the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference’s First-Ever Scholarship Recipients

Scholarship recipients with MEEA staff and Nexant sponsors

For the first time, the 2020 Midwest Energy Solutions Conference offered a scholarship for students to attend with all or most expenses covered, to join more than 700 industry professionals for three days of learning and networking.

The scholarship, sponsored by Nexant, covered the cost of registration, travel and housing for recipients. The opportunity was open to college, graduate and trade students throughout the Midwest.

“As an industry, over the last several decades we have made a lot of progress towards a more energy efficient, sustainable and clean energy economy – and yet there is opportunity to do so much more with many challenges still to solve,” said Sam Mueller, Senior Vice President at Nexant Utility Services. “As the world continues to grow and change, we feel it is critical to invest in the next-generation workforce, as they will be the ones to help us advance.”

The three recipients of the scholarship – Emma Alanis of Loyola University Chicago, Lillian Spackman of Calvin University and Md. Rasel Uddin of University of Nebraska-Lincoln – talked with us after the conference to share their experiences and feedback.

Q&A with MEEA’s 2020 MES Scholarship Recipients

Q: What was your overall impression of the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference?

A: (EA) “I had never been to a conference of that size before and getting the opportunity to network with so many companies and organizations in the energy efficiency field was an incredible experience. I gained insight on what types of careers there are in this field, and knowledge on the current issues surrounding energy efficiency and how they are being addressed.”

(LS) “MES was a great experience for me: a good opportunity to network with people in a field I'm interested in, in the region I'm interested in.”

(RU) “It is a great way to strengthen the relationship among utilities, MEEA members, contractors, policymakers and participating companies.”

Q: Why did you decide to apply for this scholarship?

A: (EA) “I decided to apply for this scholarship because I had recently completed an internship working on energy benchmarking and am working on a current project with my university on anaerobic digestion as a sustainable energy alternative. These two projects in my undergraduate career have driven me to want to pursue a career in sustainable energy and working to promote alternatives to fossil fuels.”

(RU) “I applied since I worked with the Nebraska Industrial Assessment Center at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which is concerned about improving EE in industry, so I wanted to learn different EE practices and know the up-to-date technologies in the EE sector.”

Q: What were your main takeaways from the event?

A: (EA) “I learned that energy efficiency is an important step in moving our world towards renewable energy services. Energy efficiency is cost-effective and a great start to moving our grid to a more sustainable alternative. I also learned that with the improvement of energy efficiency in our communities, there needs to be more policies and incentives provided (and known about) to help consumers and businesses make the switch.

(LS) “People write energy codes. Like, that's a thing that someone does as a job. I guess part of me thought that maybe someone had to do that, but it was really interesting to hear what it was like in practice and what influence code writing can have.”

(RU) “On the last day of the conference, by participating in a presentation about research & development of different technologies, I came to know that anyone can submit their energy efficient technology ideas to some concerned companies. For me, this was the top takeaway.”

Q: Did you learn anything there that surprised you?

A: (EA) “I learned that in addition to updating building codes for energy efficiency, there needs to be resilient and affordable housing included in the discussion. Resiliency provides the ability to make communities stronger and adapt to adverse events like natural disasters.” 

(LS) “It was a pleasant surprise for the first plenary to be composed of all women talking about EE access and community development. It was encouraging and neat to see those competent women as leaders in that space, and it did surprise me (in a good way) that those elements of socio-economic inequality were being considered.”

Q: How did the conference complement your education and/or career goals?

A: (LS) “I'm particularly interested in how and why we use our energy the way we do. Of course, EE is a part of that, but it was really helpful for me to see and understand the interdisciplinary conversations that are needed to engage energy well, considering the variety of stakeholders and perspectives and navigating that space wisely and effectively. I learned a lot, had great food and conversation, and came away with more than a few new business cards and LinkedIn connections!”

(RU) “This will largely impact my research goal, as I learned about several energy efficient technologies and their ongoing research.”

Q: Please share any advice you would give to future recipients.

A: (EA) “For any future scholarship recipients, please take the time to network with the sponsors and attendees of this event, as a way to gain valuable experience meeting people working in this sector. This was an incredibly rewarding experience for me to gain insight on what a future career in energy could look like!”

(LS) “It's worth it! It's interesting and exciting and intimidating all at once, but an experience worth investing in. And the generous scholarship means that cost can be mostly, if not completely, eliminated as a barrier. Try something new, make some new friends and be willing to talk to people, because they will be excited to talk to you.” 

(RU) “I would highly recommend applying to the MES conference [scholarship] since this is a unique opportunity to engage with different potential companies and learn their products, which will help to build up a career in those companies.”

And as for Mueller’s insider advice for those aspiring to break into the energy industry? “Immerse yourself in the subject and learn all you can. Find a mentor in the industry and ask questions and listen. Find a way to get a start in energy efficiency work, and then bring all the great characteristics of your generation to the professional workforce – be proactive, resourceful, tech-savvy, team-oriented, connected and achievement-focused. And then work hard, provide as much value as you can and make a difference. We need you.”