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Student Perspectives – The Journey of a Foot Soldier. UMESH MALI


I have a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering. In my Senior year, I was offered a job at the Tata Consultancy Services as a junior programmer in Mumbai, which I ended up rejecting primarily because I disliked programming and wanted to work towards making a difference in the renewable energy space.  Taking a university course was the only option for me to make that switch to the renewable energy industry. So, I decided to I apply to universities in the U.S. which were offering  courses in Sustainability, Renewable Energy or the like. The decision wasn’t just derived out of a career change perspective, but more from a desire to make a difference. Now, as I write this post, I realize I couldn’t have made a better decision.  A year into the ENGY program, I find myself among a group of 21 students at the University of San Francisco, who share similar beliefs, concerns, and hopes regarding the future of our planet. Everyone, to the best of their abilities, fighting for their future.

When you google it, you can find that the Energy Systems Management program is a multidisciplinary program designed to “build a new wave of renewable energy professionals”. After a year in the program, I can say that they do just that and in fact a whole lot more.  One of the two subjects in the first semester was Energy Economics and Finance.  For a person with a technical degree, there couldn’t be a more intense course. I gained an understanding of the economics affecting the adoption of distributed energy technologies. We also studied behavioral economics and learned some important tools that are being used in the industry. Quantitative methods in Energy – another subject in the semester was focused on using mathematics to estimate and model various aspects of Environmental degradation like CO2 emissions, global temperature rise etc. Interestingly, one of the readings for the course was a book called “Consider a Spherical Cow” and the nerdy me thoroughly enjoyed the classes. If nothing else, I am pretty sure I can convince the President, using numbers, that climate change is for real and we can’t act like we have all the time for all the solutions.

With subjects like Energy Industry Strategy and Policy, Energy Law, Energy Audit it was time to zoom into the gloomy industry and understand how things are done and what needs to be changed and how long will it take and who will be responsible to bring that change and many more such concerns. I now know that it takes a lot of thinking, debating, collaborating, innovating to come up with solutions that seem very obvious from a layman’s perspective. The grind wasn’t glamorous and it’ll never be.

San Francisco is truly one of the best cities ever and it’s the place where John Muir – “John of the Mountains” – began his journey to save the wilderness and all the other torches in the world were lighted from his. Winter break in the city was the best experience I ever had. The long hikes, the steep climbs, the hot beaches, the cold Pacific and the humbling hitch-hikes would forever stay in my memory. The state is just as hard-working and risk-taking as it is beautiful. California is the 7th largest economy in the world and it’s not without sweat and innovative thinking. When I have been to meet-ups and conferences in the Bay Area, people from out of state complain that California is a bad influence, moving too fast and cutting through rationalizations, that you don’t see those expensive Model Ss as commonly on the road anywhere else in the country. But I have come to realize that this place is full of people who dream big and seek higher things and coordinate and collaborate to achieve what we know is right. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “This place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”; this aptly applies to California. I am very happy with my decision to reject admission offers from six other universities and come to USF and be at the heart of the fight.

I have one more year to go in the program and I am very excited for what lies ahead of me. Here, I have a wonderful opportunity to learn from people who have begun this journey way before me and those who now walk beside me. In my fear of moving to a foreign country with a rather sizable education loan among various other challenges that come with moving to a different country, the one thing I know for certain is that I was not afraid to join this program, because if you believe that the future is truly in your hands, then you will take actions that speak the same as well. The industry is on the cusp of a massive transformation with solar, wind and storage and other technologies coming up at a scale that dwarfs its oppositions to lead us into a sustainable future. We, the foot soldiers, have the responsibility to clear the way and let them grasp a firm rooting into the industry and power our lives well into the hearts of the cities and well beyond the sunset.

Unmesh Mali – University of San Francisco, Energy Systems Management – Class of 17′

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