HOMETOWN: West Bend, WI
UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE: B.S. in Industrial Engineering & Certificate in Business from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
PREVIOUS EMPLOYER: Sapient Consulting (Chicago)
Can you talk about combining your experience in data analysis and applying it to renewable energy?
I’ll start back almost a couple years ago now, when I got this new consulting job. I wanted to take a step back and really think about what I wanted to do and what would be fulfilling and a good match. This put me on this process of discovering the integration of renewable energy. I started out doing a lot of reading and research on the topic, and reading up on the big topics to build a base. And then I actually wrote a paper for this discussion called the “51st State”, which asked the question of what energy would look like if it were created in a whole new state. That was a great way for me to take a step forward and contribute; to learn through doing. I also created a blog centered around combining data analysis and clean energy integration. But the main purpose was to help me learn, so it was personal for me. As I was going through this topic, one key question for me was, “how can I use what I have already? What skills can I bring so that I’m not completely starting over?”
How did this help to inform your decision to pursue a degree in public policy?
I met so many people who had graduate degrees; the problem is that the field is so multi-disciplinary; but policy is what emerged for two reasons. One is that is is so impactful, in that everything revolves around regulations and rates and laws that are in place. And second, it was an area I didn’t know that much about. I had other pieces of engineering and finance and technology, but the policy piece is something I didn’t know enough about. So the last step in the process was to really get to know Chicago, and what organizations are out there. I went to some meet-ups, and kind of networked my way around, and that firmed up some of my thoughts on what I should be thinking about from graduate school to data analysis.
What about your undergraduate experience made you choose Harris as a graduate school?
When I graduated, I was very intent on getting a job and into the workforce. I got a job in finance; there was a lot of overlap with the math and statistics in my undergraduate degree. I was eager to jump in and see what’s out there. I didn’t really have graduate school on my mind too much, besides maybe a MBA down the road. The evolution from all that was that I really wanted to get to be an expert in something and have a field to be in. So that’s what led me to graduate school and policy schools, instead of continuing to work or get an MBA.
You applied Early Action— was there a moment when you realized that Harris was the place for you?
It all kind of happened pretty quick. In the beginning of November, I was finishing up taking my GRE, and actually scheduled a phone call with Jennifer Erickson [Associate Director of Student Recruitment]. She was very supportive, very positive. That helped me out a lot—it helped me to see how important my interest in data analysis is in the field, and she helped and encouraged me to get in on early action. Admissions was very accommodating and helpful with that process. Another key moment was that I talked to another alumni who is in the industry and is doing something I’d love to do with development. Everyone seems to be willing to help, as long as you take the time to recognize and utilize that.
What big ideas motivate you every day?
All kinds of different stuff! One of the things is that in renewable energy, all this technology is there and available— it’s just a matter of implementing it, and what’s involved with that is a lot of policy and economics. If you can set up the regulation correctly (pricing in carbon, pricing in time-of-use for electricity, etc), you can make for a lot more efficient systems that are also cleaner. It’s a complex problem, but worthwhile.
You’ve been in Chicago for several years now. Where are some of your favorite places or hidden gems, for those Harris students that are first-time arrivals to the city?
Definitely do all the touristy stuff—it’s fun! But there’s two locations that come to mind: the rooftop winter room in the Harold Washington Library is a really beautiful space to sit and read and do work. Also the Chicago Cultural Center is another cool place—sometimes, if you just walk in, you can hear someone practicing the violin.