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GREEN program fosters immersion in engineering

When I received an email about the Global Renewable Energy Education Network Program from Dean Fred Bernath, I took a moment to consider the possibilities. Here I was, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering without the faintest idea of what I wanted to do going forward. I knew I was interested in renewable energy but didn’t have much exposure to the subject. After doing a little research on the program, I found it to be a perfect match. Hiking excursions, exclusive access to power plants and the location where Viking legends were recorded? All that more or less hits the jackpot for my ideal study abroad. All in all, I hoped the many opportunities offered by GREEN would help fuel my curiosity about renewable energy and point me on my way to find what I want to pursue. Suffice to say, it did. And needless to say, I applied and got accepted.

After months of preparation and some pre-departure anxiety, I finally made my way to Iceland. I was joined by 26 other students from all over the world who were just as excited and nervous about the trip as I was. Many of us had different ways of settling down. Some of us were ready to explore surrounding areas, while others would rather chat around camp. When the capstone project was introduced, we freely bounced ideas off of one another and grew in our mutual interest of sustainable energy.

For the first few days, we attended classes at Reykjavik University. We were given an overview of how geothermal and hydropower systems work, some insight on the energy aspect of economics and a brief background on Iceland’s position above the Mid-Atlantic ridge. All of these lectures were topped off by visiting Geothermal and Hydropower facilities. During the tours, everything I learned in my classes back at Rutgers slowly clicked in my head. Being at the power plants and learning about them on site was the final piece of the puzzle that made all the concepts fall into place. Being able to see all of this for myself helped me decide to pursue a career in the energy field.

The two local guides that joined us were a huge part of what made this trip amazing. Both were very knowledgeable about Icelandic geography and were singlehandedly responsible for getting us through this journey safely. They were always ready to help anyone who was interested in learning a bit more about Icelandic culture by teaching us a few Icelandic phrases and fairy tales along the way. They also had a system of withholding the day’s itinerary until the very last second. Being a stickler for planning things ahead, this system irked me at first, although I came to understand why as the trip went on. When you are scaling an 800-meter mountain, you certainly want to put off getting back to camp for as long as possible. When your guide fully immerses your caving experience by sharing local legends and singing beautiful Icelandic songs in the pitch dark, you honestly can’t do anything else but appreciate the now and not the then. This is the one time this group would share the experience of snorkeling between tectonic plates, going on 10-mile hikes, getting soaked by waterfalls, meeting the president of Iceland and Super-Jeeping across rivers in Iceland. We could always think about school, meals and cozy beds later, so why not just float with the goat now?

Interacting with other people, whether my fellow students, professors, facility experts or my guides, was truly the best way to get the most from this program. Going on excursions boosted my confidence and leadership skills. This program is a chance for like-minded people to exchange thoughts on the renewable energy, the environment, how marvelous Iceland is and whatever else. Being a reserved person, it took me a bit to open up. When I eventually did that, the memories I made with these people are the ones I will keep for times to come — that is what the GREEN Program is truly about. Getting out of your comfort zone is the best way to grow and learn something new.

Kevin Fu is a School of Engineering junior majoring in mechanical engineering. 

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