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Esmeralda Colombo, Research Fellow at the University of Bergen, Norway

Esmeralda Colombo

"It really was the only course of its kind that joins the finance side with the clean energy side in a very formative way for people of all backgrounds. It’s nothing like watching online videos remotely with no human interaction. In our live sessions, there is a lot of discussion and the opportunity to ask questions."

What has been unexpected about the program?

I would say the competence and compassion of my fellow cohort members. We were able to get to know one another right away when we were put into study groups for the Foundations Course that I took in July. My study group organized a session in the summer, before the Welcome Week, and the vibe was extremely open and creative. I realized that we came from such a variety of areas and countries, experiences, and ethnic origins. That was just really inspiring and very promising. We get that same level of competence and compassion from the faculty and delivery team as well. I think the Welcome Week was very formative because it was just so clear that we were there not to compete with one another, but rather to learn from one another. The peer-to-peer dimension was and is still very strong.

How has the program built your knowledge or skills of clean energy so far?

In 2014, I worked in a law firm in Berlin on feed-in tariffs, which have long constituted the primary policy instrument for galvanizing clean power generation in Germany. The subject was fascinating but limited to the controversies that the law firm was handling, rather than forward-looking. In 2016, I received my master’s degree at Columbia Law, where I took environmental, climate, and energy law classes with Prof. Michael B. Gerrard, and dived into local and global policy changes, energy blogs, and academic journals. But I did not have this streamlined set of competencies to be able to address all clean energy technologies, policy tradeoffs, energy justice factors, and innovation outlooks in dialogue with engineers, managers, and financial experts. This streamlined set of competencies is what I am developing through the FDCE Certificate. It is a very creative convergence of competencies! In our policy course here just last month, for example, we wrote a policy memo and article to create support for the memo. It was such a great assignment because we were called on to deploy expertise and ideas, as well as boldness and creativity. We were left to choose our own topic, and also where we wanted to send our memo. We are given such strong source material and learnings that I feel one is able to apply it every day, and still get to make it one’s own.

In what ways has the program enabled you to expand your network?

For each course, the delivery team assigns us to one study group. It is a great way to get to talk with peers during the week, and especially after the live session when we are sent to breakout rooms with our study group for some final comments. Further, for some assignments, for example, the policy memo, we are assigned to additional peer groups that constructively comment on our work. As a third type of network, we often need to comment online on our peers’ answers to open questions in the week’s quizzes. It is interesting and inspiring to get to know your peers through very technical discussions. More informally, the delivery team has also organized a WhatsApp group. I realized that in the WhatsApp group, people often share interesting news related to the week’s material, their job challenges, and job opportunities. We also use LinkedIn to follow what one another is doing professionally and to get a heads up on new jobs. I recently enjoyed immensely the initiative called CBEY Alumni Visiting Experts, which provides us with the opportunity to engage with alumni and leverage their expertise and mentoring in one-to-one sessions. And then, of course, we are gleaning insights from the faculty and the delivery team at all times, either during the live sessions or in office hours. In office hours, I was impressed by how teaching assistants and professors are genuinely interested in us as persons and professionals. In some ways, this online format allows you to get to know others better than what a group of 80 people would warrant, where you may never get to know most of your peers or professors.

In what ways is the cohort diverse and how has that benefited your learning or your career development?

We come from several continents and regions. While there are a lot of people from the U.S., there is geographic and background diversity throughout the U.S., and many in the cohort have a transnational life or work experience anyway. Another type of diversity is in the careers: the set of skills held throughout the cohort is enormous, from finance to policy to engineering to management. A lot of people are already experts in their field, and I really appreciate that they still joined the program because they want to gain a more diverse and streamlined set of skills to interact within the larger clean energy space.

How do you connect with your classmates during weekly discussions or through other tools? What are the advantages of that social aspect of the program?

We often have discussions after the live sessions and I always try to do that, even if it is just for 10, 20, or 30 minutes. It is so enjoyable and conducive to real learning when we think together and throw out new ideas, especially right after class, where we have been exposed to policy, technology, or financial matters we are eager to keep on discussing. As mentioned, in the week material, we often have discussion boards where we reply to our peers’ answers to quiz open questions. But sometimes you want to continue an open conversation just with one person, and so you would exchange private messages on canvas, which is our learning platform. I love that everyone is so willing to keep the dialogue going.

What are the other advantages to the program being online?

You can structure your own way of learning and tailor it to what you need throughout the course. For example, in the policy course, I wanted to do most of the work over the weekend so that I could see the discussion posts most in the cohort posted and take those ideas into consideration before class. With the technology transitions course, I am trying to study a bit earlier in the week so that I can make sure I am grasping the quantitative concepts in the live session since my background is more in law and social sciences than in the natural sciences. It has been easy for me to tailor the course to my own expertise and the goals I set for myself by embarking on the certificate. I also like the testing modes, which are discussion-based or problem-based, or both, depending on the course. I found it very effective that we are tested through online quizzes so that we get assessed right after the recorded lecture. It helps you connect what you have just learned to what your takeaways should be, which catalyzes your capability to memorize and internalize what you are learning. And then, of course, live sessions with the professors and the rest of the cohort are great. It's nothing like watching online videos remotely with no human interaction. In our live sessions, there is a lot of discussion and the opportunity to ask questions. I found that the live sessions of the technology transitions course are so far extremely well balanced in terms of time devoted to the professors’ lecture and Q&A sessions, which is crucial for such a highly varied and complex course.

How do you anticipate that the program will help you with your career?

When I first enrolled in the program, I was still thinking I would be an academic forever. But this course has opened my mind to many possibilities and new pathways for transitioning from academia to a more hands-on job. I can now grow my future in clean energy because I have a better sense of all the different ways the industry can develop in the future and how I can chip in as a lawyer or policy advisor. I would still definitely be enjoying some academic writing on the fringes and in the shadows of whatever job I do next. I have realized that theoretical robustness can strengthen your leadership skills and management toolkit to be the change you want to see. And there is so much change we want to see in the next decade when it comes to the energy industry.

Why did you choose this program?

I had been following the CBEY newsletter for a while, so I realized the level of expertise that was at Yale in this area and always thought of Yale as a standard of excellence. Everything about the program was very promising at first blush on paper. On closer inspection, I saw that it really was the only course of its kind that joins the finance side with the clean energy side in a very formative way for people of all backgrounds. I could have chosen a different program on, say, sustainability, but that level of specificity, organization, and excellence really made the program stand out to me. When I first investigated the curriculum and read about the faculty, I thought it was the perfect thing for me. I did not know anyone who had taken it before, but I indirectly gleaned positive feedback on the program from a climate change economics professor at the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen [Norway]. I lectured in his class and am currently collaborating on a project on decarbonizing bank investments in Southwest Norway. I asked him whether he would write the reference letter for my application to the FDCE Certificate. Not only did he do that, but he also mentioned the program to a colleague of his in the energy sector, who said that the program really was the best in the field. If someone wanted to deepen their knowledge of clean energy and was interested in finance, this was the place to go. I am hoping that with my participation, more people will join the program from Europe!

Who would you recommend this program to?

Definitely to lawyers, because I am one and I think lawyers can really benefit from the policy frameworks and discussions that the program offers. Moreover, through the program, lawyers can get to understand the nitty-gritty of what engineers and financial experts talk about. This mutual understanding does not occur very often and permitting or operations processes get stalled also because of this difficult dialogue across disciplines. Besides lawyers, I would say, engineers, financial experts, and managers. Those are the people who are going to be able to complete the program successfully while also being challenged by the course content. The course does not offer easy content, but the content is not so difficult that it makes it frustrating. The amount of work is reasonable and keeps you engaged. More broadly, anyone with an interest in clean energy could benefit, including philosophers and political scientists that are versed in climate change, democracy theories, and energy and social justice. The accessibility of the content and the foundations course makes this program accessible to a large suit of professions. And we need so many professions working in the field. It is a field of many overlapping skills.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

During the pandemic, I think this is the best program anyone could think of. It is professionally delivered and outstandingly taught. Everyone contributes in such a meaningful and compassionate way and you do not feel alone as you learn from home. The course allows you to build a new set of skills and develop yourself in this time of uncertainty when the world seems paused. You really need to make your time meaningful these days. The FDCE program is such an amazing way to take advantage of this time.


Want to learn more about the program?

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