Partnership Council Series #4: Cross-sector Collaboration through the Clean Energy Internship Program

“Figure out who you are and choose a course of study that feeds you,
and you won’t have to set an alarm for work in the morning.”

Paul Lyons, owner of Zapotec Energy, gave this advice to a group of high school students in the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center internship program during one of their weekly field trips.  As Lyons disseminated invaluable career and life advice to the 19 students on the cusp of their adult lives, it became clear that this program offered much more than just a summer job.

Boston Youth Environmental Network’s Clean Energy Internship Program was provided by a grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MA CEC).  This summer, 19 BPS high school students, ranging in age from rising juniors to incoming college freshmen, were placed in paid clean energy internships at both non-profit and for-profit companies throughout the city.  The participating companies were BLS Youth Climate Action Network (BLS Youth CAN), Dorchester Bay Economic Development CorporationMIT Energy InitiativeNext Step LivingFastCAP Systems, and Green Jobs Boston. The Boston Private Industry Council helped recruit the students, edited resumes, and held mock interviews to prepare the students for the real thing.

The Clean Energy Interns celebrate their graduation from the program.

Clean Energy Internship – Samanda Jean, MIT Energy Initiative

While other incoming college freshmen may have spent their last summer working at the mall or local ice cream shop, Samanda Jean conducted her own research project during her internship with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative (MITei).  Samanda, who begins classes at Georgetown University this fall, researched Energy Education programs at universities in the United States.  Armed with only a computer and stack of MITei pamphlets, she was tasked with sifting through the material to choose her own subject to research.  She eventually narrowed her focus to studying “Live and Learn Labs” at MIT and Carleton College in Minnesota, seeking to understand how these universities use the campus experience, particularly outside of the classroom, to teach students about sustainability.

Aside from weekly check-in meetings with her supervisor Christie Ko, Academic Coordinator at MITei, Samanda completed her project independently. The internship culminated with Samanda’s presentation to the MIT Education Department, where faculty eagerly awaited the results of her research.  According to Ko, MITei was already preparing to use her findings to inform its work in other areas and departments.  Thus, not only did Jean gain invaluable experience in working independently and setting her own goals and deadlines, but one of the top universities in the world is making use of her research.

Clean Energy Field Trips – Zapotec Energy, Cambridge, MA

Students worked at their respective internships Monday through Thursday, then attended Roots of Success” Environmental Literacy classes on Friday mornings to learn about renewable energy. These classes were followed by field trips to green companies, where students were immersed even further into the world of green jobs.  At Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), students took a “Toxic Tour” of Dudley Square to learn about the area’s history as an asbestos dumping ground.  At MA CEC’s Wind Technology Testing Center, students witnessed the extensive testing required for just one single blade on a wind turbine.

For their last trip, the interns visited Zapotec Energy in Cambridge, a company that designs and manages solar energy projects.  Owner Paul Lyons’s presentation combined science class, college and career guidance, and a hint of philosophy.  It was both informative and thought-provoking, and the advice he gave was vital for those in all walks of life, not just young adulthood.

Lyons explained the basic principles of photovoltaics (PV), displayed and passed around many different incarnations of PV cells (solar panels), and presented examples of his own company’s installations and processes.  The conversation was not limited to science, however.  Lyons showed an extensive list of all the different professions that were involved in a given solar installation, from sales managers and warehouse staff to mechanical engineers.  Just seeing a list of career optionsrelated to this field is extremely helpful to incoming college students trying to figure out where their skills and interests can place them in the working world.

After the list of professions, Lyons provided a list of academic subjects and their respective real-world applications.  For students already interested in the clean energy field, Lyons essentially provided the blueprints for them to develop the foundation of knowledge upon which to build a career.  The interest in the room was audible – when Lyons spoke on the importance of mechanical and electrical engineering, two of the interns high-fived each other in celebration of their planned college majors.

More important than finding out what you want to be, said Lyons, is deciding who you want to be.  He advised the interns to ask themselves, “Do I want to be known for being knowledgeable?  Helpful? Wealthy? A superstar?  The ‘What’ will come easily after the ‘Who.’”


Through this cross-sector collaboration among non-profits, private companies, and universities, the clean energy interns received much more than a summer job.  They gained experience working in an important and challenging field, were introduced to a variety of other career options through field trips and environmental literacy classes, and received life and career advice that was simpler and more profound than any guidebook or career aptitude test could offer.


For more information about the Clean Energy Internship Program, please contact Dawn Chavez, Director of the Boston Youth Environmental Network.