Campus & Community

The lure of green

5 min read

Energy and environment employers connect with Harvard students

As the annual job search for seniors and graduate students heats up, employers in green tech fields are leveraging alumni connections and flocking to Harvard to court students for jobs.

“Green” employers are zeroing in on candidates who have the right mix of talent and flexibility to find success during difficult economic times.

“The threat of budget cuts definitely looms large over our sector, as it does over many sectors, but we’re optimistic,” said Walter Frick, communications manager at New England Clean Energy Council.

“It’s great to have a technical student who can also communicate to a lay audience,” said Frick. “That’s one of the big things that we think Harvard students are likely to be able to do.”

Frick’s organization was among more than 30 that filled the Radcliffe Gym on Feb. 25 at the Office of Career Services’ (OCS) second annual Energy and Environment Expo, all of them eager to tap Harvard’s thinkers, communicators, and innovators for full-time positions or internships.

The alumni connection

The economy may be suffering, but success stories are not difficult to find. In fact, several of the company representatives at the expo were recent Harvard graduates who found their first jobs at last year’s event.

Molly Bales ’10, for example, is now a business development associate for Waltham-based Harvest Power, a fast-growing company that recycles organic waste. As an undergraduate, Bales studied history and science; this year, she stood on the other side of the company table.

At Harvard, “I had some science classes and some history, writing, and research skills,” she said. “It’s been really important for me to have the technical background to be able to understand our technology, but also have the people skills and the writing skills to do all the other pieces of the job.”

Passion helps, too.

“We’re a pretty small company of about 25 at the corporate level, and everybody’s very committed to what they’re doing,” she said. “A lot of people have environmental backgrounds, and they’re really interested in our mission. If people really believe in the company, then they’re going to work harder, so that’s something that we value.”

Jennifer Popack ’10, another recent graduate, landed a job at ThinkEco (itself founded by Harvard alumni) in New York City as a result of last year’s expo. The company sells a device that cuts power usage by appliances left on standby.

“At a start-up, everything is changing constantly, which is what makes it so amazing,” she said. “Harvard prepares you to be able to deal with managing multiple things at the same time, and taking things as they’re thrown at you, and making the best of it.”

ThinkEco’s president and CEO, Jun Shimada ’93, A.M. ’99, Ph.D. ’02, studied philosophy, chemistry, and chemical physics at Harvard; chief business officer Mei Shibata ’95, S.M. ’99, M.B.A. ’03, was a physicist and medical engineer here. The company welcomes applications from Harvard students because, as Popack put it, “you kind of know what you’re getting.”

When Popack joined ThinkEco last year (having studied environmental sciences and public policy), she was the sixth employee. Now the company is up to 20 and preparing for its commercial launch.

“It’s all hands on deck, and the more capable hands on deck, the better,” she said. “We’d love, love to have more engineering undergrads come and apply.”

Testing the water

Junior John Yusufu was excited to learn about Digital Lumens, a company that makes “smart” LED lighting systems for industrial settings, aiming to replace high-intensity fluorescent lamps, which consume more energy.

“I like them a lot; they’ve found simple ways of achieving the same results with less of an effect on the environment,” said Yusufu, who studies mechanical engineering at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “That’s what I’m looking to get involved with.”

For students such as Yusufu who have not taken the plunge into the hectic world of recruitment, applications, and interviews, the expo provided an opportunity to test the water.

“I know eventually I’m going to have to get out in the real world,” said Daniel Bruder, a junior concentrating in mechanical engineering. “I just want to see what’s out there and get my feet wet a little bit.”

Bruder moved from table to table, engaging with company representatives, asking them about how they run a start-up, how they market their products, and how they figure out what people are going to want to buy.

“I just learned about a new product that’s incredible, that I’d never even heard of before,” he said. “But more than just what these projects are, it’s how people are going about doing them in the real world that I’m learning about.”

Decision time

“It’s a really daunting period,” said senior Patricia Florescu. “Now is the time to start thinking about what to do next year, but it’s so hard to decide.”

Florescu, who will graduate with a concentration in applied mathematics, had interviewed with one of the companies at the expo earlier in the week. The OCS event provided her with a chance to find out more about her prospective employer’s work and the options that are available.

“This expo was a good opportunity to talk to various employers and see that even if we’re from a liberal arts college and we’re interested in a technology or engineering job, we have the skills that employers are looking for,” she said. “This is the most reassuring thing.”