Sustainability fellowship program focuses on giving students experiential learning experience


Daily file illustration by Olivia Abeyta

The fellowship works to have students create sustainable and energy-efficient solutions for the University and its surrounding communities.

Davis Giangiulio, Assistant Campus Editor

A Northwestern fellowship program aims to give students hands-on experience in crafting real-world solutions centered on energy and sustainability.

The NU Sustainability Fellowship will welcome its fourth set of fellows this winter. Offered during Summer Session and Winter Quarter, the program welcomes 16 fellows who receive a tuition stipend for the quarter. Two other fellows obtain full-time internships, and together they work on projects focused on improving energy efficiency and sustainability at NU and surrounding communities.

Past and future projects include working to electrify Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s bus fleet, examining the connections between food equity and indoor agriculture and improving community microgrids.

Sustainability Director Greg Kozak said the fellowship was developed through funding provided via a broader partnership with the clean technology organization Ameresco. The collaboration intends to help the University reduce its carbon footprint.

“One of the things we were able to collaborate on was what else could we offer through this partnership that would enhance the overall program,” Kozak said. “One of those things was the sustainability student fellowship and internship program.”

The focus from the beginning was getting students into the real world, Kozak said.

McCormick Prof. and program co-Director Holly Benz shared a similar sentiment. She said she has long wanted a program that prioritizes experiential learning.

“It’s always been a passion of mine to make this lab-to-life transition happen more easily and on a larger scale,” Benz said. “We have amazing things going on at labs at Northwestern, but getting it out of the lab and into the marketplace is something that is really valuable.”

Seniors and graduate students can participate in the program, and rising seniors can apply for the Summer Session period.

First-year energy and sustainability graduate student Shawn Fu participated in the fellowship program last summer. He said his project focused on battery recycling and analyzing its environmental and economic impact.

“I think this project really helped me explore my career paths,” Fu said. “I want to dive deeper into this field, and I give credit to this fellowship.”

Fu said he was grateful for the collaboration the program created, particularly because he saw it applying engineering and science solutions together.

Collaboration is at the core of the admission process, Benz said. While all applicants are expected to have a passion for energy and sustainability, the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at NU, which makes decisions regarding applications, also looks for students with diverse lived experiences, academic backgrounds and skills. 

This winter’s projects include launching a long-duration energy storage plan on campus, while analyzing and improving Evanston’s community microgrid off campus. 

“The type of projects that really get me excited — where it benefits not only the students participating in the program, but also the communities and not just Northwestern,” Kozak said.

Benz pointed to “Project Green Bus,” a completed fellow project, as a prime example of Evanston-focused projects. The project worked to electrify District 65’s bus fleet. 

She said a District 65 bus service representative said without the fellowship participants, the potential electrification of the bus fleet wouldn’t be possible.

“It’s something that was important, pretty leading-edge, (had) local community impact and really helped to do something that otherwise wouldn’t get done,” Benz said.

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Twitter: @GiangiulioDavis

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