This summer, six students from the Harris School of Public Policy gained hands-on experience conducting research and policy work in the United States and around the world as part of the James Bartlett Fellowship Program in Energy and Environmental Policy and the DRW Graduate Fellowship in Economics & Policy. Here’s a snapshot of their experiences.
Bartlett Fellow, U.N. Environment Programme
Sanya Jha worked for the U.N. Environment Programme in her native Delhi, India. The experience fulfilled her longtime dream of working for the U.N, a desire she first expressed to her parents as a child. Later in life, she discovered economics as a pathway to researching for the U.N., which in turn sparked her interest in implementing policy solutions to confront pressing environmental and energy issues.
Jha arrived in Delhi a week after World Environment Day, which meant she dove into a series of events with large crowds from government and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Her work for the remainder of the internship involved planning and research for several projects, particularly related to air pollution, but also including topics such as electrification, solar power, cook-stove pollution and electric vehicles. Jha engaged with other large organizations in the environmental sector and related sectors to discuss potential collaboration and possible approaches to improve India’s environmental situation.
“It was a dream come true when I got this internship,” said Jha, who is pursuing a master’s in environmental science and policy (MSESP) at Harris Public Policy. “This experience has been absolutely amazing because I have learned so much…about how things work in a society, and how you’re supposed to go out and implement a project, from the brainstorming stage to figuring out how you’re going to reach the solution you want.”
Trevor Dean Arnold
Bartlett Fellow, University of Copenhagen
Trevor Dean Arnold, a Harris Public Policy master’s student, worked with the esteemed climate economist Dr. Jette Bredahl Jacobsen at the University of Copenhagen over the summer. Arnold worked with Dr. Jacobsen at the university’s Department for Food and Resource Economics (IFRO) on integrated assessment models that attempt to explain the damages of carbon dioxide using different scenarios and growth projections. He specifically worked on the forestry component.
Arnold said he benefitted from working across disciplines to improve models, a valuable skill in economics related to climate change.
“Dr. Jacobsen put me in a position to learn from the other scientists at IFRO and build on my coding and research skills,” Arnold said. “This experience taught me how to ask questions to different researchers and how to think about the current state of research in a new field. I’ll carry that with me throughout my career in academia, in which I hope to work with climate researchers from all backgrounds.”
Shujie Medy Xu
Bartlett Fellow, Argonne National Lab
Shujie Medy Xu, pursuing a MSESP at Harris Public Policy, worked as an intern at Argonne National Lab’s Environmental Division. There, she assessed the economic value of replacing conventional crops with biofuel crops on land within the Mississippi River Basin to mitigate harm to marine life in the Gulf of Mexico caused by a depletion in oxygen levels from agricultural run-off. An accountant for nearly a year before enrolling at Harris, the experience of conducting independent research was new to Xu, and something she said will be valuable in her future career.
“Though I am not planning to be a full-time researcher, having such amazing research experience is very helpful in terms of achieving my career goal of becoming an environmental or sustainability consultant,,” Xu said. “Thinking critically and independently is essential in the consulting field, and the geo-coding skills I learned during the internship will also be very useful in my future career.”
In addition, Xu said she gained important time-management and problem-solving skills as she learned how to manage the ins and outs of independent research.
Bartlett Fellow, Powerhouse
Andrew Bray, a Harris Public Policy master’s student, spent his summer in the Bay Area working for Powerhouse—an Oakland-based seed fund that invests in entrepreneurs building software-enabled solutions for the clean energy industry. Bray said one of his goals as a student is to understand how to integrate clean energy onto the grid through private sector collaboration, which fed his attraction to venture capital.
Bray’s work at Powerhouse focused primarily on researching and bringing in new startups to the fund, giving him a front-row seat to the fast-paced world of venture funds and the technology that will transform the future of energy.
“It’s a smarter grid that makes better use of technology to reduce demand instead of firing up another fossil fuel plant,” said Bray, president of the Harris Energy & Environmental Association. “It’s highly efficient using the best optimization models. It’s properly incentivized with resources getting paid for the value they provide. It’s distributed with individuals’ devices supporting the grid as a whole. There’s still many questions such as what the role of the utility is and how distributed vs. centralized it is, but it’s very different.”
DRW Fellow, World Resources Institute
Julian Lake worked in the Climate Policy program in WRI’s Brazil office, where he conducted research on national policy options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and drive economic growth.
Lake said his favorite project while in Brazil was researching the climate strategies of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, France, Canada and the Czech Republic, and using their experiences to inform recommendations for the Brazilian government on how to reach its long-term climate goals.
Living in another country for the summer also added to the experience, he said.
“It means that your education never stops, even when you leave the office,” Lake said. “I am constantly learning more about the culture, the struggles and ambitions of the Brazilian people, and how those topics relate to my public policy studies. With an eye towards a career in environmental policy, I can think of no better experience than to work with an organization like WRI in a country as critical to our global climate efforts as Brazil.”
DRW Fellow, World Resources Institute
Genta Mecolli worked in WRI’s Sustainability program in Washington, D.C., where the bulk of her time was spent crafting a viable carbon pricing plan through integration of behavioral analyses, economic incentives and logistical limitations.
Mecolli described her time at WRI as “invaluable,” as it allowed her to understand the full process of how an idea becomes policy. But the most important lesson she learned is the importance of translating policy research in a way that will motivate policymakers to respond, she said.
“We as policy students need to be able to take the research we create and champion it to those who draft policy,” Mecolli said. “Pure statistics will not sway everyone, and it is up to us to learn how to take our skills and go one step further: to be active advocates for policy rooted in truth and reality.”
Along with external internships, Harris Public Policy students also spent the summer working with UChicago faculty on research projects. They included:
Bartlett Fellow; Mark Templeton, Director, Abrams Environmental Clinic at UChicago Law
Justin Behrens worked on the clinic’s wide-ranging energy policy and advocacy work. Projects included reporting on an Illinois Commerce Commission working group process to modernize Illinois’ utilities and electric grid, assisting the Clinic’s legal team representing a community-based energy justice organization in Detroit to advocate for greater solar deployment and advancing the Clinic’s multipronged efforts to require federal and state agencies to incorporate the social cost of carbon in policymaking.
Bartlett Fellow; Louis Preonas, Postdoctoral Scholar, EPIC
Pei Zhou worked with Louis Preonas to calculate the external costs of driving on society, incorporating four areas: traffic and road congestion; probability of an accident; local air pollution; and global carbon emissions.
DRW Fellow; Steve Cicala, Assistant Professor, Harris Public Policy
Bao worked with Harris Assistant Professor Steve Cicala to analyze the reasons for a recent plateau in global electricity demand.
DRW Fellow; Elisabeth Moyer, Associate Professor, Atmospheric Science
Andrew Deng helped Moyer develop a database of energy usage in the United States from 1635-2015 to track its evolution.
DRW Fellow; Koichiro Ito, Assistant Professor, Harris Public Policy
Jugulum worked with Harris Assistant Professor Koichiro Ito to collect datasets for a project on automobile regulation and markets in India, the European Union, United States, and Japan.
DRW Fellow; Amir Jina, Assistant Professor, Harris Public Policy
Vaibhav Rathi helped to plan the research design and background research for a field experiment in India randomizing placement of air purifiers in primary school and measuring short- and long-run educational outcomes.