Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean

I applied to the Student Energy Career Training Program on a desperate whim. Having never heard of the organization, I didn’t know what to expect or what to feel, other than that it seemed too good to be true. To be honest, I was worried that I was too unqualified for the Pilot program, too.

I was entering my fourth semester of college having completely abandoned everything I had worked on since matriculating. I entered college majoring in Aerospace Engineering and Nuclear Engineering, bent on realizing dreams of innovating space power systems technology and participating in the resurgence of nuclear thermal propulsion, but my ambitious naivete was beaten down by a series of failed exams and a narrowing route to graduation. The tipping point was when I wrote a discussion post for an intermediate Nuclear Engineering class. One student had written “Why hasn’t nuclear energy become a worldwide phenomenon yet? It’s so obvious that it’s the climate solution!” The other responses were sympathetic and agreeable—my 5-paragraph response was an outlier. I wrote back, detailing the necessity of expanding the energy network past Western civilization to include Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean because they have been dispossessed of the financial, educational, infrastructural resources to do it alone—and because the West could not possible hope to abate climate change without their help. My passionate response was met with a resoundingly deadpan question: “Why did you bring politics into this?” That was mortifying. I’ve never questioned my discipline faster nor more fervently than I did then.

Back to Student Energy. I found Student Energy off a careers newsletter I had forgotten about and I couldn’t believe that I was being shown an organization dedicated to reducing energy poverty, encouraging youth political participation, and mobilizing an international membership. This had almost seemed anathema to my college’s approach to the energy crisis. I applied, throwing caution to the wind because I was afraid I wouldn’t graduate and wouldn’t work in the energy policy industry like I had wanted for years. I waited with bated breath for weeks before giving up. Then I got an email from SE asking for my preference for a project team. (Oddly enough this came to me before the acceptance email, so I waved it off as having been sent to the wrong person before catching myself.) After realizing what it meant, I was elated!

Fast forward to the end of the program. Olu Olajide, who’s now left SE, had encouraged me to stop being timid and take the reign of my project. We were successful in building 60-page report detailing the ins-and-outs, successes and failures, of clean transport policies across the United States and our project sponsors were proud. It was a moment of pride and relief—I could turn to my parents now and tell them that I had something to talk about in interviews and something to point to when I needed to prove that my education was providing results. Now, I’m three semesters into a new dual major focused on navigating the morass of international development, energy and environmental regulations, and climate change, have completed several additional career opportunities, and I’m preparing to present research on economic policy, trade, and development in Haiti at three research conferences. I can’t say that this would never have happened without the reassurance, confidence, experience, and network that the SECT Pilot Cohort provided. I’m grateful and trying to devise a way to give thanks. I hope others can benefit from SECT, too.

Xiomara Jean-Louis (they/she)
B.S. Sustainability Studies & Economics
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute ‘24