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Hoover Tower with SEQ PV panels

Stanford public-service energy internships honor Secretary Shultz

Nov 30, 2020
Precourt Institute

By Kate Gibson

A public-sector, energy-focused internship program at Stanford University has been renamed in honor of one of the most widely admired American public servants over the past half-century: former Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

The Shultz Energy Fellowship program, previously Stanford Energy Internships in California & the West, is a partnership of Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy, Bill Lane Center for the American West, Haas Center for Public Service and Stanford in Government. It offers both undergraduate and graduate students paid summer positions at energy agencies in California, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii. Students work with mentors and gain real-world, public-sector experience at the local, state and regional levels. A long-time leader on energy policy and research, Secretary Shultz said he was honored and touched when he heard about the program’s new name.

Secretary Shultz speaking to students
Secretary Shultz shares his insights every year at Stanford's September
bootcamp for incoming graduate students interested in energy,
Energy@Stanford&SLAC. After speaking, he always takes time to chat
with students.

“We’re beginning to pull bright young people into this orbit and have them work at the energy problem. That’s the future,” said Shultz, who chairs both the energy policy task force at the Hoover Institution and the advisory council at the Precourt Institute.

A legacy of public service

With a decades-long career in public life that includes serving in four different U.S. Cabinet positions — one of only two people to do so — Secretary Shultz is a model of the public service attributes the program seeks to develop in students.

Shultz received his Ph.D. in economics at MIT. He credits this experience, particularly the mentorship of Joseph N. Scanlon, with sparking his interest in public service. A research director for United Steelworkers of America, Scanlon was known for bringing together management and workers to turn around struggling steel companies.

“I wasn’t just doing academics. I was also doing things with someone very special,” said Shultz. “I became interested in using information and ideas to do some good somewhere.”

Reflecting on his storied career, which ranges from solving labor disputes to the thawing of the Cold War, Shultz says one of the most important lessons he has learned is that trust is the coin of the realm.

“It’s important to be honest and straightforward, and always do what you say you are going to do,” he said.

Making an impact

The Shultz Energy Fellowship program works with agencies at the forefront of the clean energy transition, said Diana Gragg, managing director of Explore Energy, the Precourt Institute’s education program. By demonstrating that a clean energy future is possible, California and other western states have a key role to play in that transition.

Secretary Shultz speaking to students
The Shultz Energy Fellowship program gives students an inside look at
public-sector opportunities they can pursue after graduation.
(photo credit: EJ Baik)

“A lot of students worry about big social issues like climate change. They want to know how they can make a difference,” Gragg explained. “Public service is an important avenue for that.”

The program, which is directed by professors Sally Benson and Bruce Cain, is designed to show students the kind of public-sector opportunities they can pursue after graduation. For 2016 intern Terra Weeks, (M.S., civil and environmental engineering), her experience at the California Energy Commission translated into a dream job. She is now a senior advisor to David Hochschild, her former internship mentor and the chair of the Energy Commission.

For other students, the experience can enrich non-public-sector career paths. As a 2019 intern at the City of Palo Alto Utilities, Nora Hennessy (Ph.D. student, energy resources engineering) created a model to study the cost effectiveness of citywide energy storage programs. Though she does not plan to pursue a career in government, she says the experience will help her know what questions to ask as a researcher.

Interns this past summer found themselves working from their kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms instead of in offices from Denver to Honolulu due to the COVID pandemic. Despite the challenges posed by a remote internship, the sixteen-student cohort made valuable contributions.

At the California Energy Commission, Sindhu Nathan (Ph.D. student, chemical engineering), helped update a roadmap for integrating the charging needs of electric vehicles with the needs of the grid. She forged meaningful connections with leaders on issues of fairness at the commission, firing up her passion for energy and social justice.

Employees refer to the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research as the think tank of California’s government, according to 2020 intern Julia Osterman (MBA/MS, environment and resources). The agency leads the state’s long-range planning efforts. Osterman helped OPR advocate for California’s adoption of climate-related financial risk disclosure as part of the state’s new climate investment framework.

Looking ahead

Zoom call with 2020 cohort and mentors
2020 interns and mentors got to know each other over Zoom.
(photo credit: Katie Taflan Cerneka)

With the renaming of the program, Gragg hopes that the connection to Secretary Shultz will be inspiring for students. The program has typically attracted students in engineering and other STEM fields, but recent cohorts have included students from law, political science and business. Gragg sees this as an encouraging trend and would like to see students from throughout the university participate in the program.

“There is a lot to learn. There are great people to work with. Our students make important contributions,” said Gragg. “Go into it with enthusiasm and an open mind and you will have an excellent experience.”

Shultz hopes that future fellows will learn a lot and can contribute to solving problems like energy storage.

His advice to future interns? “Work hard. Remember: you’re onto something of great importance. Contributions from the science and engineering side — as well as policy — can make a huge difference.” 

To learn more about energy in California and the West, and the program’s mentoring agencies, watch the program’s California and Western Energy Lecture Series, which was produced by Dian Grueneich. An affiliate scholar at both the Precourt Institute and the Bill Lane Center, Grueneich launched the internship program in 2016 and was instrumental in its development.

"The program’s partnerships with state agencies would not have been possible without Dian's critical role bringing together the public sector and academia," said Cain, who is the director of the Bill Lane Center and a professor of political science.

Interested students can learn more about the program on the Shultz Energy Fellowships web page. Applications are now open for several of the 2021 positions, with more to open soon. The deadline to apply is Feb. 3, 2021.