"When will you have an opportunity to be able to sit down with the Commissioner for Connecticut for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and gain that industry knowledge? I thought the program would be a little bit more theoretical, but it's really practical, and that to me is the best part."
- What has been unexpected about the program?
What I probably should have expected but didn't expect is the caliber of both the fellow students as well as the professors and the resources that are available. I have an undergrad and master's and then a certificate in GIS as well. I'm quite comfortable with academia and with that side of things. Comparing my experiences from my undergrad and my master's and then the certificate—I’m impressed by the quality of folks who are in the program and the resources available to us are bar none...it’s fantastic. I've really enjoyed our discussions and lectures and the folks that are coming in to do the guest lectures as well. When will you have an opportunity to be able to sit down with the Commissioner for Connecticut for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and gain that industry knowledge? I thought it would be a little bit more theoretical, but it's really practical, and that to me is the best part.
- How has the program built your knowledge or skills in clean energy? What have some of those practical applications been?
I like to refer to myself as a “true blue developer.” I'm a jack of all trades, master of none, and oftentimes what comes with that is a little bit of imposter syndrome. So building the knowledge and getting enough background to be able to say, “I know how to calculate how much carbon comes from fossil fuels,” and “I know the comparison between the energy resources of a coal-fired plant versus a solar array,” …to be able to support what I do with knowledge and information is the best way to get around that imposter syndrome, to make sure that I feel more comfortable. People always say you can get this knowledge through webinars and podcasts, and as much as I like those; they’re only so comprehensive, whereas having a full year-long course to be able to really explore has a lot more benefit than just listening in on a one-day conference.
- You’re still in the program so you’re learning new things all the time, but what are some of the skills you’ve picked up so far?
I spend a lot of time in and around policy, just by the nature of being a developer, as we need to understand the policy to be able to develop the projects correctly. I wrote my policy memo on the regulation that we're currently working within Massachusetts, so I was already quite close to the subject matter when I wrote the memo. However, breaking it down into layman's terms for the general public has been a really important skill. Also, in reviewing the policy, I actually found a loophole for a project of ours that we thought we would have to terminate due to updated regulation. We’re now able to go forward with it because I revisited the intricacies of the policy. Writing policy memos is a major part of any developer’s job; you have to be involved at that intersection or else you won't be able to develop the projects that you need in the manner that need them. I wish everybody could learn how to do a policy memo because it's so important, regardless of the issue area, whether it’s healthcare, education, immigration…it's vital that you're able to have a voice, especially in a democratic government that takes a lot of public input into consideration.
- In what ways do you think the program has enabled you to expand your network?
What I really like about the program is the fact that it's actually quite diverse; having folks from different backgrounds has really helped. There’s another person in the cohort who does a lot of work around offshore wind, and we do wind and solar, so being able to connect with him has been great. He's a very specific part of the value chain, whereas being a developer, I see all sections of it from origination and negotiation with the landowner all the way to decommissioning at the very end. So being able to talk with people who are in these specific value chains and these specific sections to understand their perspective has definitely opened up how I see situations. There are also other developers in the program, and it has been nice just to chat with them and ask, “Hey, are you finding this too?”, “Are you having this issue as well?” or “How are you getting around this challenge?” It's great to bounce ideas off of other people who also understand the industry and the situation you're in.
- What does that diversity look like? What are the dimensions on which the cohort is diverse?
There are certain segments for the industry of clean energy and renewables: you have the financiers, government, developers, the general public, and advocacy groups. I often find that when you're siloed into one of these specific groups you might not see the perspectives of the others, and I firmly believe that different perspectives allow you to grow. I also believe that if you're just listening to yourself, you're actually not learning and growing, so it's been nice to talk with folks who see things differently. I see this throughout all our discussion posts, where people will say something like, “well, what about this issue from this rural vantage point,” or from the perspective of the financier, or what have you. Not to use a buzzword, but to be able to have a holistic view of what you're doing is actually so vital because it allows you to not only relate to other people who you're working with, but also produces an end result that is generally more utilitarian, and often better for everybody than it is when you're just dealing with that one original silo.
- In what ways do you connect with your classmates through weekly discussions or other tools? What have been the other benefits of that social aspect of the program?
Of course, I wish we’d had our week on campus to start the program [that was postponed due to COVID] because this is such a social cohort, which has been great. We have an active WhatsApp group for our cohort with mini-groups too for people with different interests. For example, I’m in a small group with some fellow foodies in our cohort. Our coursework of course happens in a more formal setting, so it’s nice to also have this informal venue to connect with other participants. I can’t tell you how many renewable energy podcasts, books, webinars, and series have been shared between everybody; the wealth of information and knowledge that's been shared outside the classroom has been outstanding. I feel a strong connection with our cohort, and here’s an example. One of the members of our cohort unfortunately was let go from their job and reached out to our WhatsApp group sharing their resume and asking if anybody knew of or had any opportunities. 20 or 30 of us started responding, “yeah, absolutely; send it to us and we'll share it around, what can we do to help?” And some other folks offered their resume improvement skills. It's a nice sense of community that's been created, especially when you consider we are so distant.
- What are some of the other advantages to the program being online?
The flexibility is incredibly helpful with the way the course is broken down into small chunks of time. My schedule is quite erratic; there are easy nine-to-five weeks but also crazy 60-to-80-hour weeks with three public hearings in the evening where I just don’t have as much time on a daily basis. So being able to have the flexibility of, “oh, this week I can tackle everything on Monday,” or another week I can break it up throughout the week and do smaller chunks…that has been advantageous for me to go at my own pace. It’s also useful to be able to pause during some of the online video content and take a minute to digest what’s just been said, whereas, with purely in-person lectures, you’re always trying to catch up to what’s just been said. This course is different from a purely online course where you have those massive hour, hour-and-a-half lectures that were pre-recorded, and there’s no interaction, and you just take an exam at the end. Here, the content is broken into smaller chunks, and having the live lectures once a week to go over material that we’re diving into that week is really useful as well.
- How did you find the FDCE program? What were you looking for, and why did you choose to apply?
The company I work for is great with education; they're always looking for their employees to go out and gain more experience. I had originally started looking at any sort of courses through Harvard since I was in Massachusetts. I began going through the course options, but I realized there wasn’t a course there that matched my career path and the kind of education I was looking for. So I started broadening my geographic scope a bit and came upon the Yale FDCE program. I was reassured about the content of the program because I have a Master's in environmental resources management, and Yale’s School of the Environment has a very similar program, so just knowing that my background would probably be a good fit made me even more excited about it. I also liked that it was online because I travel a lot for my job, or at least I did in non-COVID times when I was applying, so I could be flexible with my location as I was enrolled in the program and still participate in a meaningful way. That was a huge draw.
- Who else would you recommend this program to?
I would recommend this program to two different groups of people. The first would be anybody who's looking for a career change to get into clean energy, and then the other group would be people like myself who are currently in the renewable energy space who are looking to expand their knowledge or skills. Or if you’re even more like me, I would recommend this course to folks looking to get over their imposter syndrome and become more of an expert in certain fields. Also, if you’re just a lifelong learner and you’re purely in it for the academics, that’s great too and you’ll love the program. But from a practical standpoint, I’d definitely say those two groups I mentioned above could get a lot out of the certificate for gaining skills that will help them with their careers.
Something that I like about the program is the fact that there are others like myself who are already embedded in the clean energy space. However, it’s also nice to have folks in the program who are trying to enter the industry through a career shift because they ask really useful questions. There might be a question that I don’t think to ask as someone who’s been embedded in the industry, but then a “career-switcher” will ask a question and a great discussion will come up where I understand something from a different perspective or context. So I like that we have a diversity of backgrounds and levels of experience. Another example is in my working group that I was put into for the policy course; I have a cohort peer who is heavily involved in hydro, and that’s something I haven’t really touched on in my career, but going through these past few weeks, we’ve been talking about both hydro and wind. It’s great to be able to bounce the ideas off of an actual industry expert because I feel like I’m getting a deeper understanding.
- Anything else you’d like to share?
If there are prospective applicants to the program reading this, I’d highly recommend looking at the materials posted on the FDCE site with the calendar of what is covered each week, because it’s very accurate for what we actually talk about and learn about. Take a look at what is discussed in each course and make sure it aligns with your career goals; I bet you’ll be as excited about it as I was. I’ve been really enjoying the course so far, and I’m only a third of the way or halfway through! I can’t wait to come back in the spring.