Friday, April 1, 2016

Reflections from IDEASS Alumni

Many students over the years have participated in sustainability internships and programs at UCSC, such as the Impact Designs: Engineering & Sustainability through Student Service (IDEASS) program. They work on important, hands-on sustainability projects during their time here, and then they graduate and take those skills and experiences into the "real world." Kelsee Hurschman, Provost's Sustainability Intern for the Sustainability Minor & IDEASS, connected with two such alumni, Samuel Kahn and Brenden Fant, to find out what they're doing in their lives after college and how their experiences in the IDEASS program have helped them in their current endeavors.

Samuel Kahn
Attended UCSC 2010-2013

Q: What was your IDEASS project?
A: Our team as a whole worked on implementing different sensors at NASA Ames and on campus to do real-time monitoring of energy load and demand.

Q: What did you do?
A: I specifically worked at NASA Ames using machine learning algorithms (Artificial Neural Networks) to predict the load and demand of microgrids. The motivation for this is the intelligent, predictive, and real-time storage and distribution of energy; our inability to do this is one of the abating factors in the adoption of renewables.

Q:And what did you take away from being an IDEASS intern?
A: So so much. It really jump-started my career and got me into graduate school at UC Berkeley. It was an amazing experience working on a team with people with diverse backgrounds. These backgrounds varied from physics, environmental studies, chemistry, and earth sciences. This is how things are in the real world!

Q: How did participating in IDEASS prepare you for life after college?
A: It made me take the initiative to start a project without guidance and push through the difficult times. I have now helped found a start-up and I would say that IDEASS prepared me more for the fast-paced and challenging environment of startup life than any other class or research I did while at UCSC.

Q: What do you currently do and how did you get there? What qualities helped you earn that position?
A: I am currently a Data Scientist at a start-up in Santa Cruz in which I am a founding member. We are approaching a million dollars in funding and the skills I learned in IDEASS have definitely helped paved the way for us. From pitching ideas to solving technical problems with no clear solutions, I cannot be happier that I participated in IDEASS!

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to current students to prepare for the real world?
A: A couple pieces of advice: 1. A degree doesn't mean you'll get a good job, but showing you can succeed (and fail) at real-world type projects will. The same goes for graduate schools; the grad school market is saturated with applications of students who have a high GPAs, so you need to think about how you will differentiate yourself. 2. You will often have no help on projects or problems so you need to learn to be comfortable with no help. IDEASS is the best place to start. 3. The more technical prowess you have the better (statistics, programming, excel, etc...). These may sound scary, but just think of them as tools to propel your career. This is especially the case for people in the hard-sciences; Physics (myself), Chemistry, Biology, etc...

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: IDEASS will make you busier and challenge you, but it will pay in ten-fold if you put in the work. 


Brenden Fant
Attended UCSC 2011-2013

Q: What did you do? And what did you take away from being an IDEASS intern?
A: During my time with IDEASS I was a member of the Bicycle Transit Planning Team. We conducted a study to identify specific improvements and corridors of concern for cycling safety on the Westside of Santa Cruz. We assessed the most utilized bicycle routes to and from UCSC and correlated the quality of the bicycle infrastructure and historical collision data.

Q: How did participating in IDEASS prepare you for life after college?
A: The IDEASS program gave me the opportunity to practice skills such as elevator pitches, public speaking, project management, team building as well as data analysis. My team and I presented our project to the City Council of Santa Cruz as well as the Regional Transportation Commission for the County of Santa Cruz and our report is still referenced today by Santa Cruz city planners.

Q: What do you currently do and how did you get there? What qualities helped you earn that position?
A: After graduating I applied for an entry level position as Tesla Motors as a Product Specialist. During my five interviews I was able to distinguish myself from the other candidates by expressing my passion to transform the transportation sector towards more sustainable modes. The goal of this position was to educate the public about the benefits of operating an electric vehicle when compared to an internal combustion engine. Since then I have transitioned to my current role of Technical Support Specialist.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to current students to prepare for the real world?
A: One lesson that I have learned during my time with Tesla Motors is that you never know who you are talking to and that you need to treat every person with a high level of respect. There has been numerous times that without realizing it I was assisting a customer that was a significant stakeholder. 

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: The IDEASS program is different from the ordinary classroom setting because each project engages a diverse set of stakeholders to work towards a common goal and improve the community as a whole.


Thank you, Samuel and Brenden, for taking the time to share about your experiences! If you're a student interested in getting involved in a program like IDEASS, please visit the IDEASS website or check out our list of other opportunities on our blog here.

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