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Interns Bring Fresh Perspective

By Kelly Vaughn

Every summer, RMI’s Snowmass and Boulder offices experience a game of musical chairs as staff members anticipate the arrival of a new group of interns.

For nearly two decades, undergraduate and graduate students from universities across the country have arrived to breathe new life and add fresh perspectives into RMI’s work. Throughout the organization’s history, various interns have had a hand in a variety of game-changing work, from the construction of RMI’s original headquarters and Amory Lovins’ private residence to publications such as "Winning the Oil Endgame."

In spite of the ongoing changing of the guard, several programs have a consistent and valuable presence at RMI. The Stanback Internship Program (funded by Fred and Alice Stanback and offered to graduate students at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment), and the MAP Sustainable Energy Fellowship (funded by MAP—Natural Gas and Renewable Energy Royalty Partnerships, and offered to Stanford University students and alumni) have partnered with RMI amongst other NGO’s over the last decade, giving hundreds of students the opportunity to address the challenge of a sustainable future.

For RMI, these programs offer a tremendous resource on the key initiatives the organization is undertaking to get the world off fossil fuels, and helps attract young professionals whose academic interests and experiences align with RMI’s mission.

In fact, several RMI veterans started their careers through these programs. Within our electricity practice alone, Principal Lena Hansen got her feet wet at RMI as a Stanback Intern in 2004, and Consultant Sam Newman came to RMI three years ago through a MAP Fellowship.

This year, we have twelve interns and fellows engaged in diverse aspects of RMI’s work within our core practice areas. When asked about their experience, they gave great insight into what sets RMI apart from other work experiences, and how lessons learned over the summer will affect their career paths down the line.

The RMI Community

“At previous jobs, engineers work in one corner, while scientists work in another," said Molly Ward, Stanback Intern and student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. "When I came to RMI, I was immediately shocked at how many people from different sectors work together under one roof. People are constantly gathering in one place—whether in a meeting or cooking lunch together in the kitchen—to talk about different ideas.”

RMI’s emphasis on collaboration is not only core to our work, but also to the culture. According to our group of new interns, this aspect was the most important in making their time here a success.

“There are a lot of projects in RMI’s pipeline and a lot of people working on specific components,” said Amanda Gonzales, MAP fellow. “But, the leadership team is constantly bringing everyone back together to look at the bigger picture. It helps the group accomplish so much more and improve each other’s work.”

Gonzales and MAP fellow Chris Hart are both working with RMI’s electricity practice. And while they are focused on researching different aspects of a low-carbon electric system (renewable integration and solar Balance of System, respectively), they both share a common understanding of how the pieces fit together.

“As an engineer, it is easy to get caught up in the details,” said Hart. “But maintaining an ‘inch deep-mile wide perspective’ has been a good learning experience for me.”

Beyond RMI

For a mission-based organization like RMI, the greatest benefit of bringing in new interns each year is the opportunity for future impact. According to Executive Director Marty Pickett, RMI alumni are important ambassadors for taking our mission, strategy, integrative design approach and key principles into different sectors.

For many of our current interns, their contribution to Reinventing Fire, RMI’s vision and detailed roadmap to drive the transition from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables, has quickly forced them to become well versed in whole systems thinking and integrative design across RMI’s core practice areas.

“I have efficiency engrained in me permanently,” said Stanback Intern Andrew Dietrich.

“What I will take away is the consistent need to ask, ‘and then,’” said Stanback Intern Anna Shpitsberg. “RMI has the ability to question every aspect of a decision and its consequences, and the focus in not only finding an answer to an existing problem, but to also address the possible implications of the suggested solution.”

In the future, Shpitsberg hopes to take this approach to security issues arising from strains on water and energy resources.

Overall, the group agreed that Reinventing Fire and the vision that helps guide us from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables is something they all think is essential to pursue, and plan to continue working toward that end goal throughout their careers in different capacities.

“To me, what it comes down to is the overall attitude of stewardship that I have learned,” Dietrich said. “We not only have a clear end goal, but a deep understanding of why we do what we do.”

Note: A future Spark issue will highlight our Konheim, Semmer and Argosy Foundation internships.

Kelly Vaughn is a public relations specialist at RMI.

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