Fall 2009

Working Life

Mike Allen BS’05, Agricultural Business Management

Mike Allen. UW Athletics

Now that he’s finished setting records as a kicker for the Badger football team (2001-04), Allen oversees east coast operations for 1st Light Energy, one of the most experienced residential solar electric system companies in the nation. Even in this challenging economic climate, Allen says the solar energy industry and his company have seen tremendous growth. Allen credits his CALS professors with teaching him how to do business by their own example—to care across the board, to be passionate about what you do, and to provide individual attention to your relationships.

Ranjini Chatterjee PhD’96, Biochemistry

Renjini Chatterjee

Chatterjee worked as principal investigator at Farasis Energy, focusing on engineering microbes to produce more environmentally friendly fuel from biomass feedstocks. She remains fascinated by the energy of microbes, especially their capacity to generate potentially useful chemicals and the tools and technologies that can be applied to harness them for industry. Currently she works with Genetic Chemistry, a Palo Alto-based company that develops chemical compounds from microbes for pharmaceutical and other industries. Chatterjee is engineering and evolving microbial pathways in yeast to produce antimicrobial chemicals that could be used in drug development and other applications.

Carter Dedolph BS’87, Construction Administration

If you want to be an Energy Star, Dedolph can help you get there. An energy-efficiency expert for the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation and Focus on Energy, the state’s renewable-energy initiative, Dedolph manages the campaign’s Wisconsin Energy Star Homes project, which helps builders and homeowners make improvements to reduce energy use and take advantage of renewable resources. Even with the slowdown in home construction, Dedolph says the percentage of energy-efficient homes in the state has never been higher. Previously he worked with Focus on Energy’s program for apartments and condos.

Seth Fischbein BS’93, Bacteriology

Seth Fischbein

Fischbein operates a series of fermenters for Coskata, a next-generation biofuel start-up that makes fuel-grade ethanol from synthesis gas. The process is amazingly feedstock-flexible, as the gas can be made from anything from switchgrass to corn stover to municipal waste. Fischbein runs experiments in small-scale bioreactors to optimize the Syngas-conversion process and screen modified organisms for potential improvements. If any adjustment seems promising, his team works to engineer the process and equipment to suit a large-scale plant setting. If he didn’t spend his days cooking up fermenters, Fischbein says he would probably have been a chef.

Elisa Graffy MS’93, Agricultural Economics

Graffy has served as a policy advisor, analyst and departmental coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey for more than a decade, where she has made a career working on agroenvironmental issues. She explores new ways to address energy issues and brokers interactions between research and policy development in partnership with agencies at the state and federal level along with non-governmental organizations and universities. Much of her work is centered upon a federal interagency initiative to establish sustainability indicators for biofuels. Graffy helped lead a 2008 team that designed a national system of environmental indicators, which the White House directed federal agencies to pilot with state and non-governmental partners.

Mike Haas PhD’78, Biochemistry

Mike Haas

Haas is nationally recognized as a leader in biodiesel research. As a biochemist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, he and his team develop new biodiesel production methods, develop and apply new assays to determine purity, create process models to estimate the operating costs of various production methods, explore new uses for byproducts generated during production, and investigate problems that develop during use of this new fuel in the real world. Formerly president of the American Oil Chemists Society, Haas describes himself as a kid at heart, always waiting for the final bell with his nose pressed against the window so he can go outside to play. In his spare time, Haas organizes and leads teams to restore forests and fields, improving animal habitat.

Mi-Sun Kim PhD’89, Food Science

Kim began researching bio-hydrogen production 15 years ago through the new and renewable energy research division of the Korea Institute of Energy Research. Now principal scientist for its bioenergy research center, she specializes in bio-hydrogen production from high-moisture content organic waste via anaerobic digestion. Last year, Kim directed the construction of a new 25-gallon reactor where soybean curd byproducts are converted to electricity using a hydrogen fuel cell. Kim’s efforts have been rewarded with a number of prestigious honors, including the Korean government’s Science and Technology Medal of Merit and the Woman Scientist of the Year award from the Korean Ministry of Science and Technology.

Brad Lystra MS’07, Life Sciences Communication

Brad Lystra

Lystra is manager of economic development partnerships for the American Wind Energy Association, where his work is focused on forming alliances on policy advocacy initiatives. Specifically, he works with organizations interested in the economic development opportunities wind brings, offering analysis of the policies that support the creation of wind-related jobs. Lystra’s interest in wind power was spurred by a course where he helped install a turbine on an alfalfa farm in Edgerton, Wis. When he’s not going wherever the wind takes him, Lystra’s favorite hobby is mountaineering, especially in glacial regions of the Cascades.

Scott Pigg BS’80, Agricultural Engineering, MS’89, Agricultural Engineering and Land Resources

Pigg does field research, program evaluation and technical consulting related to residential energy efficiency for the Energy Center of Wisconsin, an innovative and independent nonprofit that seeks to solve energy challenges through research and education. His recent projects include monitoring the electricity use of home electronics to identify energy-saving opportunities, studying energy use of gas water heaters and affects on air infiltration, and launching a multi-year evaluation of the national low-income Weather Assistance Program for the U.S. Department of Energy. Pigg is currently trying to learn how to ride a unicycle to keep up with his nine-year-old son, who has been riding one for several years.

Renee Rippchen BS’97, Agricultural Journalism and Dairy Science

Renee Rippchen

As vice president of sales and marketing for BioEnergy Solutions, Rippchen identifies new sources of revenue for dairy farmers while simultaneously helping their farms achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through “cow power.” Based in Bakersfield, California, the company builds methane digesters that allow farms to collect methane and convert it into renewable natural gas. Raised on her family’s dairy farm in Richland Center, Wis., Rippchen has been working with dairy producers across the nation to enhance their profitability and add value to the future of their operations her entire life.

Carole Schmidt MS’80, Water Resources Management, MS’86, Soil Science

Carole Schmidt

At Great River Energy, Minnesota’s second-largest electric wholesale supplier, Schmidt manages permit applications for transmission line and associated facilities construction and ensures regulatory compliance. The not-for-profit member-owned cooperative transmits electricity to 28 distribution cooperatives, serving more than 620,000 customers. Schmidt works with the public, natural resource agency staff and regulators to advance projects that avoid or minimize impacts to human and environmental resources.  She “love[s] working for a progressive, well-rounded company that actually walks the talk,” with a strong environmental policy that emphasizes conservation, compliance, a commitment to continual improvement and community focus.

Kim Zuhlke BS’75, Agronomy

Formerly charged with new energy resources at Alliant Energy, where he championed the expansion of the utility’s renewable portfolio, Zuhlke is now helping more green-energy projects happen as head of his own consulting firm, which focuses on wind- and biomass-powered energy. He loves that his work gives him the opportunity to team with some extremely talented and creative people passionate about making change happen. When he’s not working to make the energy industry more sustainable, Zuhlke enjoys taking on land stewardship projects on his 350-acre farm or simply spending time on his tractor, watching things grow around him.

About the Dozen

These 12 alumni represent the depth and breadth of CALS graduates’ accomplishments. Selections for the list were made by the Grow staff and are intended to reflect a sample of the alumni stories. It is not a ranking nor a comprehensive list. To read more about CALS alumni, go to

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