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Summer 2019

Working Life

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The Resource and Energy Demand Analysis (REDA) program at CALS offers an accelerated path to a master’s degree with a focus on “economics and data analytics for a smart, green world.” These alumni from REDA’s first three cohorts of graduate students have found success in their energy management careers. More at reda.aae.wisc.edu.

Justin Margolies MA’16
“My experience with REDA served as the doorway into possibility,” says Justin Margolies. “I greatly appreciated the college’s commitment to train the next generation of energy and resource professionals — and to do so quickly with a one-year accelerated program.” He says the program honed his critical thinking, analysis, and statistical skills and prepared him to be confident with almost any industry topic. “I graduated and was able to hit the ground running,” he says. Today, Margolies is an analyst in the research and innovation group at Slipstream, a nonprofit that designs energy efficiency programs to achieve a clean energy economy. It partners with utility companies, governments, and other agencies to find solutions to energy challenges. Margolies designs pilot programs for electric and gas utilities focused on energy efficiency. “I also focus my research on beneficial electrification — replacing direct fossil fuels to reduce carbon emissions — which is gaining attention across the energy industry quite quickly but still faces significant policy and market barriers,” says Margolies. “I chose my field because, as I began learning about our energy system, I realized the tremendous potential of emerging technologies coinciding with the urgent need to address climate change — what I believe to be the largest and most complex challenge of humanity.”

Kathleen Ward MS’16
Kathleen Ward
always intended to get a master’s degree in the economics field. She chose CALS and the REDA program after working with Bill Provencher, professor of agricultural and applied economics and part-time director at Navigant, a consulting firm that collaborates with companies, investors, and the government to help them adapt to the changing energy environment. “He made the hard sell and convinced me REDA would be a good fit,” says Ward. “I really liked the idea of finishing a masters in one year instead of two, and that the degree was tailored to the energy field. Without REDA, I would not be where I am today. The econometric training that I received in the program was top-notch, but I also walked away with some lifelong friendships.” After six years with Navigant, Ward is happily located at its Boulder, Colorado, location. “The energy field keeps evolving, and I keep learning, which makes it an exciting field for me to be in,” says Ward. She specializes in evaluating programs that incentivize energy demand reduction during peak periods. She’s also worked with the Nest Learning Thermostat in estimating the impact and annual energy savings for thermostat-enabled events, when the devices self-adjust to save energy during periods of peak use. “I like knowing we’re pushing for a more efficient and dynamic energy future,” Ward says.

Abby Mayer MS’16
“I knew I wanted to work in a field where I could contribute to addressing environmental issues,” says Abby Mayer. “Energy is vital to our society, but with the increasing concerns about climate change, it’s an industry that needs to adapt to our changing needs.” Mayer’s position at Seminole Electric Cooperative in Tampa, Florida, allows her to do just that. She applies the critical thinking and analytical skills she learned in the REDA program to help Seminole’s nine cooperative members make decisions about their future energy needs. “The energy industry is changing with the rise of new technologies and the push for cleaner energy,” she says. “So it’s vital to have the skills to adapt to changing standards.” As a load forecasting analyst, Mayer makes predictions using historical data to assist with long-term planning (30 years and more ahead) for future energy and demand needs. For example, her estimates may be used to determine when Seminole will need a new power plant to meet consumer demand. She prepares, interprets, and monitors the forecasts for Seminole’s members. Mayer says she is grateful to REDA for giving her the foundation to start a career. “Being a part of REDA has also allowed me to make contacts within the energy industry at consulting firms, utilities, and nonprofits,” says Mayer. “Past classmates and professors have been a great resource for discussions and are a great asset for different analytical approaches.”

Drew Blumenthal MA’17
Drew Blumenthal was already interested in the energy industry before enrolling in the REDA program. But there were so many paths to choose from, he couldn’t decide on just one. “Thankfully, the program nudged me in a single direction,” says Blumenthal. REDA taught him coding, including importing and cleaning data, and statistical knowledge, such as the pros and cons of different program designs and how to validate energy savings results. “With this knowledge, I felt the most comfortable working for an energy evaluation consulting firm than anywhere else.” Blumenthal is now a senior consultant working in the data science field at Opinion Dynamics in Oakland, California, his home state. He helps utility companies understand how their programs are performing and makes recommendations on how they can generate additional energy savings. “My favorite part of my work is comparing energy savings results from customers’ behaviors for various energy saving devices, like smart thermostats, with designated savings values that assume customers are using these devices efficiently,” says Blumenthal. This information is used to provide recommendations for utility companies on how to improve their programs. “CALS taught me that even if you’re not making it large in the energy industry, such as working for Tesla or another company that’s transforming the industry, any contributions will make a difference,” he says.

Mickey Francis MS’16
Mickey Francis is an analyst at the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the U.S. Department of Energy’s independent statistical and analytical agency. The EIA collects, analyzes, and publishes energy information to promote sound policymaking as well as public understanding of energy, including its interaction with the economy and the environment. “EIA is policy neutral,” Francis says. “The bottom line is no other governmental entity — including Congress, the secretary of energy, or the president — may alter EIA data. I like our independent work, especially in today’s political climate.” Francis spends most of his time estimating state-level consumption, production, and prices for all energy types. At the national level, he works on estimating noncombustion (nonenergy) applications for fossil fuels, such as the use of petroleum products to make plastics or coal for skin care products. “Yes, there could be coal in your anti-dandruff shampoo,” Francis says. Those consumption estimates are important for carbon dioxide emissions estimates because less carbon dioxide is emitted through non-energy consumption than when fossil fuels are burned for energy. “I saw a need in our world to be more efficient in how we use resources, and after graduating from REDA, I thought EIA would be a great fit as well as a great way to serve our country,” says Francis. “I wouldn’t have this job if I hadn’t gotten a master’s degree, and I was first introduced to EIA during the program, so REDA has been essential to my career success.”

Mary Van Leuven MS’18
Mary Van Leuven is passionate about using renewable energy to address climate change, so working in the solar industry was a natural choice. “My work at The Solar Foundation allows me to enhance my lifelong commitment to sustainability by promoting a clean, reliable energy source to support a prosperous future for communities across the world,” she says. The Solar Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the use of solar and solar-compatible technologies worldwide. As project manager, Van Leuven supports data and research needs for the foundation’s projects, such as the National Solar Jobs Census and the U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study. She also works on a program called SolSmart, which recognizes communities across the country for removing barriers to solar energy development. “My favorite part of my work is evaluating the results from interviews and surveys to see the growth and impact the solar industry is having in the U.S.,” says Van Leuven. “A lot of my work is focused on solar policy as well as the solar workforce and how to ensure it remains strong and equitable.” As renewable energy sources continue to become more financially accessible, Van Leuven is committed to promoting them by helping others understand the research underlying the industry. “My experience at CALS provided me with the education to prosper in a research role in the renewable energy industry,” says Van Leuven. “My classes covered policy practices and issues, qualitative analysis tools, and, most importantly, the quantitative tools to analyze data in the energy industry and effectively communicate this data to the public.”

About In the Field
The CALS graduates highlighted here represent the depth and breadth of alumni accomplishments. Selections are made by Grow staff and are intended to reflect a sample of alumni stories. It is not a ranking or a comprehensive list. For more about CALS alumni, visit cals.wisc.edu/alumni.