“As an undergrad, you’re just trying to get your degree and you don’t really know what you’re doing. And then, you go out and you realize what you want,” says Benjamin Jeong, a Master’s student in Energy Systems Engineering. “I feel like that’s what grad school has been.”
Jeong got his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan in Chemical Engineering in 2016. He returned as a graduate student in 2017 and is studying renewable energy with a focus on energy generation, distribution, and usage. He is also a Dow Sustainability Fellow.
As a fellow, Jeong has been able to use what he’s learned in class to help a larger community. He’s part of a team working with a nonprofit organization, Soulardarity, which installs solar-powered street lights and helps reduce energy bills in Detroit’s Highland Park neighborhood. Jeong is one of four students working on the project, from disciplines as varied as policy, natural resources, and engineering.
"Through the Dow Fellowship, I began to apply what I’m learning in class and am working in partnership with Soulardarity,” says Jeong. “Our team is working on a feasibility study of community solar in Highland Park and how that plays out with Michigan’s solar resources.
In the project with Soulardarity, the team is applying things they’re learning in school to a real-life situation. Jeong is creating a model for the nonprofit to help them pitch to businesses a partnership with the community solar project.
Jeong has had the opportunity to learn, apply his skills to underserved communities, and meet new and passionate people through the fellowship program. He listed the diversity of the Dow Fellows as one of the most important parts of his experience in graduate school.
“There are people who have worked for years, or they’ve come back from serving on duty or they’re international students,” Jeong says. “And being able to interact with a diverse group of people and helping them acclimate to either the American lifestyle or the college lifestyle, that’s been rewarding for me.”
Part of Jeong’s interest in applying for the Dow Fellowship was his long-standing passion for sustainability. As an undergraduate, he was a part of Blue Lab Biogas International, an organization dedicated to building partnerships with rural communities to restore their environment through sustainable purification systems. His love for the environment also stems from an appreciation the planet’s beauty and his personal faith.
“I’m a Christian. I think my faith played a role in it, too. The earth is so beautiful,” Jeong explains. “I feel like it’s our responsibility to take care of the Earth we were given. That’s where my faith comes in. And that’s where my passion for the environment and sustainability started.”
Jeong isn’t exactly sure what the future holds for him and will be looking for a full-time job after graduation. But he’s sure of one thing, he wants to go into renewable energy.
“The energy landscape is definitely changing and I want to be part of it. I just know I want to be in the renewable energy movement. I see myself not as a researcher for the next big thing, but I want to look at what we have and how we can make it available for people.”