Catching Up with the 2021 Midwest Energy Solutions Conference Scholarship Recipients

Apr 5, 2021

By Anna Connelly, Senior Membership Associate at the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA)

This is a guest blog by MEEA, which was originally posted on their website

For the second year, MEEA offered scholarships to students across the Midwest to attend the 2021 Midwest Energy Solutions Conference. The scholarship, generously sponsored by Nexant, allowed 10 students to attend the virtual conference at no cost. The opportunity was open to college, graduate and trade students throughout the Midwest.

The scholarship recipients, Temitope Bankefa (University of North Dakota), Abigail Boyer (Western Michigan University), Kyle Bruemmer (Northeast Wisconsin Technical College), Ke Ding (Beloit College), Karl Hoesch (University of Michigan, School for Environment and Sustainability), Angie Quiroga Torres (University of Illinois Springfield), Zach Ruppenthal (Western Michigan University), Lesley Sheridan (Northeast Wisconsin Technical College), Abigail Werner (Purdue University) and  Edumakono Zetho (Milwaukee Area Technical College), joined over 700 industry professionals from across the region for the four-day event. The students attended sessions, workshops and networking events to learn more about energy efficiency and develop connections.

“We’re excited to enable the next generation of the energy industry with scholarships to the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference. The industry is changing rapidly in terms of technology and innovation, and is also making good progress on seeking and engaging with a more diverse and younger workforce. We are happy to support the next generation who will play a key role in the clean energy transition,” said Sam Mueller, Executive Vice President at Nexant.

Mueller added, “It’s great to see enthusiasm from students who want to help with energy efficiency and support the clean energy transition. We’re thrilled to be able to support them with scholarships to MES to help them develop their careers.”

We caught up with the students after the conference to hear about their experience attending the event and their feedback for other students looking to enter the energy efficiency industry.

Q&A with MEEA’s 2020 MES Scholarship Recipients

Q: What was your overall impression of the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference?

Bruemmer: I was impressed with the networking opportunities that were available virtually. I thought that the sessions I attended were well organized and I appreciated that recordings were available since I also had school classes going on during the conference.

Hoesch: I was very impressed by the MES conference. I've attended a few energy conferences in the last few years and this was by far my favorite. I really appreciated the organization of the conference as well as the conference platform. The topics were directly connected to my areas of interest and balanced national, state and local policy well. The networking platform was simple and engaging - way better than just open zoom rooms.

Quiroga Torres: For me, this was a unique experience because it is the first time I attended an online conference. I liked the platform that was used for this conference, despite the online barriers I was able to attend the sessions I wanted and connect with people from different backgrounds. The conference was very well organized and highly educational.

Q: Why did you decide to apply for this scholarship?

Quiroga Torres: Because I wanted to learn more about the Energy Efficiency field. I am an environmental sciences (ES) graduate student. Environmental Sciences tend to be very broad and there might be some gaps in all the interdisciplinary fields. For that reason, I applied to this scholarship, to understand this industry better and connect with experts in this emerging field.

Sheridan: I am changing careers after 15 years as an environmental educator and conferences are a method to learn more about various facets of the energy efficiency field to help inform me of what types of jobs are available and also help to increase my knowledge base as I transition to a new career path.

Zetho: I decided to apply for this scholarship because of my history. I was born in Congo, and I grew up in a refugee camp in Tanzania, where there is no electricity or proper water to drink. When I graduated from MATC, I had an honor working with the Migration and Refugee Program. This vulnerable population with low income has a lack of resources and challenges on energy efficiency. I started assisting thousands of families to apply for the energy assistance program; from this working experience, I felt that there is a great opportunity in this field. 

Q: What were your main takeaways from the event?

Bankefa: First, I could highlight the collaboration between industry practitioners towards promoting efficient use of energy as a major takeaway. Energy related challenges require holistic considerations of economics, policy, technology, environmental justice, equity, and this conference just elevates that multidimensional approach energy challenges require.

Hoesch: I found the early plenary session on the state of energy efficiency in the Biden administration very helpful. I also really valued the connections I made in the networking sessions. As opposed to other conferences I've attended, networking was easy and I was able to connect with individuals who are working with similar businesses and organizations as I am or who share my research interests.

Sheridan: It was just nice to begin getting exposure to the field - seeing what topics are important to professionals right now, as well as exploring more about the conference sponsors - without the major expenses and inconveniences of going to a conference in person.

Q: Did you learn anything there that surprised you?

Bankefa: I guess I never thought energy efficiency and equity could exist in the same line in a relatable sense. The relationship became clearer as I followed through the conference and listened to the presentations. Overall, I learnt that energy policies must take routes that promote social and economic equity.

Quiroga Torres: Yes! I learned that Michigan is one of the states leading the energy efficiency field. I noticed there were a lot of panelists from Michigan and a lot of new goal settings towards this emerging industry. I was also surprised by the session of “the need of energy efficiency in the agricultural field.” I noticed hemp is another emerging industry focusing on energy efficiency technologies.

Q: How did the conference complement your education and/or career goals?

Sheridan: Listening to the presentations increased my awareness of some of the methodologies and program focuses that companies in the energy efficiency industry are deploying for their customers. I also increased my awareness of who are some of the major energy efficiency companies that may be prospective employers for me.

Ruppenthal: The conference allowed me to talk to engineers working within energy who gave me a better understanding of how the skills I have learned will translate into working in the industry.

Zetho: This conference had opened my mind to see the big picture of the energy efficiency program and how good policies can change and make the world a better place for everyone. The conference had connected and allowed me to meet the successful business owner and higher officials of the government who are now my friends.

Q: Please share any advice you would give to future recipients.

Bruemmer: For any students, I would recommend taking notes or writing down talking points. It was interesting to listen to the speakers, but I was able to bring talking points back to my classroom and that created some really good discussion and learning points for all of us.

Hoesch: Take advantage of the networking sessions as much as possible!

Ruppenthal: I would recommend that future recipients really take advantage of the networking events because it will give them the opportunity to connect with people currently working in energy and to get a better understanding of what this career path entails.

Quiroga Torres: Don’t be shy! Ask questions, be curious. It might be intimidating to approach someone expert in the field, but it is ok. The purpose of this conference is to learn something new. So, push yourself and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also, fill out the surveys and be engaging with the participants.

We thank the scholarship recipients for their time to reflect on the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference to provide these thoughtful responses, and Nexant for sponsoring this scholarship program.

*Please note: some responses have been edited for clarity and length.