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Perspectives on a Sustainable Off-Term

One of the great things about Dartmouth is the opportunity to follow your dreams and explore the world, all while in school. This is exemplified to a T in student, Renata Hegyi. Renata took some time off from her Dartmouth education to explore her interests and find her niche in sustainability. During her junior year, deciding she wasn’t quite ready to graduate, she took some time off to volunteer for an NGO in India and intern for a recycling company in New Jersey. Renata is a fantastic example of how to make the most of your time at Dartmouth! Read on for her excellent perspective and advice for students who still aren’t quite sure where in the world they fit in.

Question. Where you are from, how/why you chose Dartmouth?

Renata. I’m from Budapest, Hungary and I lived in Lexington, KY for 5 years before coming to Dartmouth. I actually first heard about Dartmouth when watching the movie A River Runs Through It. It is based on a book of the same name written by Norman Maclean ’24. His portrayal of the school was brief, but it intrigued me, and after doing some research I decided to apply. I ended up choosing Dartmouth for several reasons, including its undergraduate focus, proximity to and involvement with the outdoors, excellent financial aid, and global orientation.

Q. What are you studying/did you study here at Dartmouth? How do those studies relate to sustainability?

R. I completed my BA in Engineering Sciences modified with Environmental Science, and currently I’m finishing up my BE at Thayer, concentrating in Energy Systems. When I first arrived at Dartmouth, I started out taking courses across many different departments, following my interdisciplinary interests in the environment and human well-being. I took several courses in geography, economics, environmental studies, and biology through which I learned about complex systems problems that societies and the planet face. During my sophomore winter, I realized that I was frustrated because I felt that I didn’t have a toolkit to address the multifaceted problems I was learning about. So I decided to give engineering a chance, and luckily I had a strong enough STEM foundation from high school that I could rise to the challenge. For me engineering was the best way to build that problem solving toolkit I was looking for. My liberal arts courses opened my eyes to the challenges we face and taught me the language to comprehend them, and my engineering courses armed me with the tools to analyze and address them. My main interest currently is in the energy industry. It is a huge, versatile, and ever-changing field. I’m very excited about the prospects of decarbonizing and diversifying our energy sources, making energy access more equitable, and reducing human impact on the planet by improving the efficiency of the tools that power our modern lives.

Q. You took some time off from Dartmouth. How did this experience shape the rest of your time here and what you plan to do after graduation?

R. During my junior spring I already knew that I wasn’t ready to graduate a year later and jump into a full-time job. I had a lot of exploring left to do. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish my BE or if the BA would be good enough, I was tired of taking classes, and I felt confused and lacked confidence in my ability to lend a job and make a difference in the world. Therefore, I did some research and decided to take a year long leave of absence starting with my senior spring (16S). Before this point, my off-terms have all been sustainability oriented. Freshman summer I volunteered with a water management NGO in Bangalore, India as a Tucker Fellow (I think now it is offered through the Center for Service). Sophomore summer I had a UGAR grant to do full-time research in Dr. Celia Chen’s lab on the bioaccumulation of mercury in marine ecosystems. Junior summer I interned at TerraCycle, an innovative recycling and upcycling company in Trenton, NJ. In short, I had a variety of rich, interesting work experience, but little exposure the particular area that I was gaining interest in. After taking ENGG 174 (“Energy Conversion”) my senior fall I knew I was interested in the energy industry, but had no idea if I’d like to work in finance, R&D, resource management, manufacturing, or something else. So my goal for the gap year was to dip my toes into as many aspects of the industry as I could. My first internship during my gap year was with SparkFund, an energy efficiency finance startup in Washington, D.C., co-founded by Dartmouth alum Joe Indvik ‘10. After SparkFund I was a Sustainability Fellow at the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute (UNHSI), working with the UNH Energy Office on a cost-benefit analysis of heating fuel-switching for several building clusters on campus. The UNHSI Fellows Program is large and versatile, they place fellows across the country with NGOs as well as public organizations to work on sustainability challenges. After UNH I spent some personal time with family, obtained my LEED Green Associate license, and in the winter used Dartmouth funding (SELF) to head to Peru and work with the WindAid Institute as a volunteer, building small scale wind turbines for rural communities that don’t have access to grid electricity.

Q. Favorite class you've taken so far? Recommendation for future students interested in sustainability?

R. One of my favorite classes at Dartmouth has been ENGS 18 (“System Dynamics and Policy Change”). I really enjoyed learning about using systems thinking to address complex, interconnected issues like climate change, environmental health, or youth violence. I highly recommend it to any sustainability minded folk!

Q. What, in your opinion, is the best thing we can all do to encourage universal environmental sustainability?

R. I believe that one of the best way we can all reduce our impact on the environment is to watch our consumer habits. We can all try to actively think about and research the impact our consumption habits have on the environment. We can all eat less meat, buy natural cleaning products, and minimize the waste our purchases generate by buying a large container of yogurt instead of a bunch of small cups, for example. We can also start to critically evaluate what our daily use of a laptop or car means for the environment, and brainstorm creative solutions to create a world we want to live in.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add that you think our readers would be interested in knowing!

R. If you are thinking about taking some time off from Dartmouth, thinking that you wish you could take some time off, are interested in anything I mentioned or just want to chat, please feel free to reach out!

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