Good morning readers!
I know what you're thinking: "Wow, Faina's alive! She hasn't blogged in nine months, and that's like ten years in blogging land!" Well, I am alive and well. I'm trying to do this whole live-my-life-instead-of-recording-it thing and it's working out well. Since my last blog post, I have been fortunate enough to visit Bermuda (Bermuda! Yes!); my friend Brittney was doing an internship there as a dolphin trainer and I got to stay with her at the National Museum and play with dolphins for a week! In addition to that, my dear sister got engaged to the love of her life, I got to see the Wildcats in the NCAAMB finals in Dallas (go big blue!), I had a semester of classes, and I got to work at the Governor's Scholars Program as a Resident Advisor in Morehead for another summer. It has been a busy, wonderful year of living life with my friends and family.
After the Governor's Scholars Program, I had a two week window before starting my co-op at Marathon for the fall semester (what's another semester of putting off classes, getting great experience, and seeing more of Eastern Kentucky). And, like the overcommiting busy bee that I am, I searched for ways to fill the time instead of winding down before moving my life two hours east of Lexington. I found an email from my advisor back in March describing a competitive research-intensive program that chose about 50 students from a pool of undergraduate, graduate, post-doc, and working applicants called the 2014 Summer Institute of Sustainability and Energy hosted by the University of Illinois in Chicago. I decided to apply, and an application, essay, a whole lot of hoping, and three recommendation (and respective thank you) letters later.. I was in!
For the sake of spreading the news of this program as well as bragging on how awesome it was, I've decided to tell you all a little bit about my experience.
The vision for the Summer Institute is to integrate basic energy sciences research and innovative energy technologies into society through informed individuals who can make educated decisions on energy at the personal and civic levels, and in energy related fields like science, technology, economics, behavior, policy, planning, and business. So what that really means is that SISE is a research- and entrepreneurship-driven experience--a training, if you will--that takes us, the SISE alumni, and gives us the necessary network, drive, and encouragement to go out and create a sustainable world. No pressure.
SISE took a diverse conglomeration of people and put them into a lecture hall for nine hours a day, five days a week, to interact with professors, artists, entrepreneurs, and to learn about the interdisciplinary interactions that create the sustainability field. And I'm talking diverse. On any given day, I was surrounded by engineering and urban planning students, business and econ majors, a high school biology teacher and a pharmacist; new grads, PH.D students, brilliant people on the verge of the next big solar panel design or biodiesel engine! And all of us knew a lot about our own fields and little about everything else, so it was both overwhelming and encouraging to muddy through the daily workshops and intensives into different facets of sustainability and energy together. We also had the opportunity to tour O'Hare Airport's air field and Argonne National Laboratory, the leading lab on sustainable battery technology (can you say stellar networking opportunities) and follow up on lectures and workshops with the researchers there. On top of all that, we were broken into groups to tackle certain national issues in regards to utilizing increased renewable energies and the policy therein. My group's specific project addressed the "duck" chart of California and its application to Illinois's electric grid, and the interaction of the two with increased renewable energy sources. For those of you who don't know much about the duck chart or about energy distribution, let me explain.
California currently has a plan to significantly ramp their use up of solar and wind energy, which is great. When the wind is at its highest peak (nighttime) and the sun is at its highest peak (afternoon), the state is utilizing wind turbines and solar panels to convert that energy into electricity. But in the parts of the day when neither is strong--most importantly, the two peak energy demands of the day, which are when everyone is getting ready for work in the morning from 7 to 9 am and when everyone is coming home from work from 4 to 7 pm--power plants that originally supplied that power have to be turning on in order to meet that energy demand. The plants take multiple hours to rev up causing a loss of excess energy that they produce while wind or solar power is still being utilized and also a lot of energy use in the process of turning the plants on and off during the day. All of this goes to say that my group was charged with resolving the issue. There were two options: technology or policy change. Either create a way to store excess energy in the form of a battery or potential energy (technology) or change the work day to where the peak hours of energy demand are more conduscive to the solar and wind power peaks of the day (policy). The latter would have required a domino-effect change through school days, state boundaries, etc, etc and so we decided to create a business venture and go the technology route. In the simplest way put, we created a system that transformed kinetic energy into electricity and stored it to be sold back to utility companies when energy demand was highest.
Whew. That was a lot to take in. The point for all of you whose eyes have glazed over at all the science going on in the last paragraph, just know this: all of us learned a lot about a lot at this program. We become enlightened to all the technology research that is being done and that is yet to be done to battle technology that is killing the planet. And that's a really big deal.
SISE2014 also taught me a lot about engineering and where I want to go with it. I love the field of sustainability technology and I love that I got to meet so many different, ambitious people who want the same thing that I do: an economically and environmentally sustainable world for future generations. Like I mentioned before, not only is SISE an incredible learning experience at the time, but it also invites you to a network of previous SISE alumni who have started the sustainability process all over the country and the world as well as their mentors and the mentors before them. We're talking professors, potential fellowships, contacts at your dream phd programs, the whole shebang!--in addition to some great new friends. If you are at all interested in the Summer Institute, I really recommend that you look into it. It was only two weeks' time, but it's an experience I will never forget.
Okay, you just read a lot. I have a couple of other things I wanted to say, but for the sake of your eyes and your time, I'll jot them down in a little list. If you're just skimming this post, at least you'll stop and read the fun stuff:
We had a lot of free time. Yes, most of that free time was spent on the project and following up on research in our groups, but we also had plenty of time to sneak off and see the city. Probably the highlight of my trip? Seeing the Van Gogh Bedroom and the huge impressionism room at the Art Institute of Chicago. We also saw the Bean, Navy Pier, the Chicago Air and Water Show, went out in Lincoln Park, and bought 18 dollar drinks on the 96th floor of the Hancock Tower--don't judge me, the view was totally worth it.
Free housing. Free ninty nine plus tax. SO FREE. We stayed in the dorms at UIC and had a great time being in one spot all together. SISE also bought us coffee twice a day and provided lunch during the days. So pretty much the best two weeks of my life.
My friends. In times like SISE where you throw together 50 people who know nothing about one another prior to the experience for two weeks, something magical happens. It's too short a time for cliques to form or cattiness, but it's long enough of a time to establish some pretty awesome friendships. I probably laughed more in two weeks than I have in an ambiguously long time. I'm keeping up with SISE alumni a lot more than I thought I would, so that's good!
The facebook page. Whether someone posts an ironic meme or an article describing what so-and-so did to benefit the field of sustainability, it's a great way to keep us close.
Your own new couch surfing network. Oh, you better believe I will be calling up amigos in Seattle or Hawaii or Los Angeles or Trinidad (oh hey Schmegz) to visit and revisit--as well as open up my own home to SISE friends!
Final convocation at Crystal gardens
My roommate Madeline
And that's about all I have to say about SISE2014. If you've gotten this far, thanks so, so much for reading! (I know you probably could've read, like, thirty buzzfeed articles by now.)
Thanks again for reading, my friends. Here are two more articles describing SISE2014 by other alumni if you're interested: http://blogs.cofc.edu/sustainability/2014/09/11/sise-2014-what-i-learned/ & http://engineering.jhu.edu/materials/2014/09/12/robert-ireland-sise-sustainability/#.VBMiMvldWCk
PS and here are some pictures from me playing with dolphins in Bermuda this past spring. Just because it's cool. Also it was probably sixty five degrees that day, so if I look like I'm shivering, I most certainly am.