Reflection: Olivia Jensen's time as a CEEM intern
Having a seat at the table
At a Wise Women- Founder Curious event I attended this summer, Nina Axelson, CEO and founder of Grid Catalyst, said when talking about starting her own business, it felt as though she “jumped off a cliff and hoped she grew wings as she was falling.” Aside from that line receiving a well-deserved rupture of laughter from the audience, it stuck with me. Not because I am planning on starting my own business, although the seed has been planted, but because that is the best way to describe how I felt coming into this internship. Before working at Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, I had minimal knowledge about the clean energy industry. I was primarily motivated by my public health background and unsatisfiable curiosity. I am a rising senior at the University of Minnesota, and I have spent the last three years majoring in Biology, Society, and Environment while minoring in Public Health. I am interested in pursuing a career in epidemiology and researching the effects climate change has on our health. A significant component of the public health sector involves policy work, and I wanted to use this internship as an opportunity to get my foot in the door. This role was appealing because it seemed like meaningful work that could beneficially impact future generations. I wanted a seat at the table to provide a different perspective to the people who can do things that I’m not capable of doing myself (yet).
A meaningful project and the importance of education
This summer, I have been able to work alongside this team as a program intern. The biggest project I was tasked with this summer was putting together a project database of our member companies’ clean energy projects that are going on in Minnesota. I used this information to track which house and senate districts they were located in. This database is valuable because it allows the team to streamline the data collection process of the amount of clean energy in specific districts, which is helpful for candidate education. When I wasn’t digging for data from our member companies, my internship involved researching clean energy training programs across the state. While researching this, I recalled from one of my public health classes that Minnesota is ranked exceptionally well in education but has some of the greatest achievement gaps (Grunewald, 2019). I thought it would be beneficial to include scholarship opportunities in my research so that the information would be more meaningful to a broader audience and help raise awareness of existing resources that may help close the gap. There are many scholarships for these programs that often go under the radar. I then used geographical information systems (GIS) software to create an interactive map of these programs’ locations. Another facet of my internship, and arguably my favorite part, was attending networking events. I got the opportunity to interact with legislators on both sides of the aisle and esteemed members of the clean energy community. I am so grateful to have had this unique opportunity. An added bonus of these events was that I got to live out every college student’s dream, a free gourmet meal.
One of my biggest takeaways this summer was that change takes time and patience is a virtue. As much as I would have loved to revolutionize the clean energy industry in my ten weeks with CEEM, it’s not that easy. However, this company is taking strides to make a difference for Minnesotans, and I am so glad I have been a part of it. I learned a lot about the importance of education, not just for policymakers but most importantly for Minnesotans. Clean jobs such as solar installers and wind turbine technicians are a rapidly growing job market that shows promise for reaching a clean energy economy. I learned that energy efficiency is key to sustainability. It’s vital to work with what we already have and make small changes that can have large, long-lasting impacts. There is a lot of hope for Minnesota to make a clean energy transition.
Personal and professional growth
Battling my imposter syndrome was probably one of the most challenging things I dealt with this summer. Attending networking events can be extremely intimidating, especially when you are a college student with three-fourths of a degree in a room full of highly successful individuals. At one of the very first events I attended, I was introduced by my colleague to Channon Lemon, a member of the board of directors for Ever-Green Energy. When I met Channon, I presented myself as “just the intern.” She took less than a second to stop me in my tracks and correct me by saying, “No, you are THE intern.” Such a small remark that stuck with me throughout my future events this summer. I can promise you that after that interaction, I never referred to myself as just the intern for Clean Energy Economy Minnesota. I was pleasantly surprised that many people were interested in talking with me and including me in the conversation. To allow myself to feel confident when speaking with people at these events, in my free time, I found myself obsessively reading the news and articles pertaining to clean energy and referred to Virginia, my wonderful mentor, as a human encyclopedia whenever I stumbled upon something I didn’t fully understand. This opportunity allowed me to strengthen my interpersonal and communication skills, which I am beyond grateful for.
After working with this incredible team, I can confidently say that I didn’t need to grow wings because they strapped a parachute to my back. They equipped me with all the necessary tools and resources to succeed and created an environment that welcomed questions. This internship exceeded my expectations and allowed me to grow in ways I wasn’t anticipating. I am excited to take the skills and knowledge I’ve learned from this internship with me along my educational and career journey.
Grunewald, R., & Nath, A. (2019, October 11). A statewide crisis: Minnesota’s education achievement gaps. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved August 19, 2022, from https://www.minneapolisfed.org/~/media/assets/pages/education-achievement-gaps/achievement-gaps-mn-report.pdf?la=en