U.S. Department of Energy

09/16/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 09/17/2021 13:52

The Geothermal Technologies Office Celebrates STEMtember with Student Spotlights Part 1

What are your career plans, and how has the competition influenced them?

Before the competition, I often felt like I was one of the few evangelizing about geothermal direct-use applications. This competition is important because it reconnects people with the most widely available use case in geothermal energy. The results continue to influence my interests. I got excited about the feedback from teammates, the feedback from industry, and the enthusiasm from our public stakeholders.

Over the summer, I took on some intensive programming coursework to expand my simulation capabilities for heat pump integration with geothermal resources. Hybrid geothermal systems can maximize the utilization of any local geothermal resource- from the dirt in your yard to the hot aquifer at depth, or the waste heat from an ORC [Organic Rankine Cycle]. That is the direction I continue to go, now studying at the University of North Dakota with the North Dakota Geothermal Energy Consortium.

How has your STEM background helped you in your career?

I am very much a non-traditional student, which might simply mean older. My interests in STEM over the years have taken on quite a range. I began in forest ecology, became influenced by the study of hydrology and climatology, and even took a keen interest in U.S. natural resource law. That might sound a bit odd now, but the overarching connection is the water-energy nexus. An educational foundation in this nexus eventually led me to study geothermal, then take on a master's degree in Iceland. Since then, I have studied reservoir engineering, well design, energy technology, geothermal geology, among other subjects.

Geothermal energy exploitation is inherently interdisciplinary. Coming from a STEM background outside of the traditional geology or engineering skillsets typically associated with geothermal has been helpful in identifying barriers to industry maturation. We-geothermalphiles-can do a lot more with less energy in place then we often expect when weighing the value of hydrothermal systems, for example.

What drew you to STEM?

I installed septic systems as a kid, in my father's business. He was a guy with a 40-year-old backhoe, high school education, and a lot of technical manuals. I learned design principles from him-the biological load limits of different soils and the influence that had on system design. Science and engineering were all I was ever really interested in academically.

I might also mention that I was an early college dropout and an enlisted Army veteran. The Army taught me a disciplined way to train the body and the brain. Big military operations can be tough, but they are possible to execute by first understanding smaller layers of effect. The same is often true of good science and engineering. Someday I hope to be a good scientist or engineer, so I try.

Why should other students explore STEM?

STEM is for everyone, not just the groomed, not the perfect, not the most followed, not the credentialed. If you are not great at any one thing, take it apart in chunks that feel functional or understandable. You would be surprised how little your very specialized counterparts might know about something that interests you. STEM is about more than a specialty-the heart of it is unlocking new perspectives that might improve or enrich life.

What surprised you most about STEM?

Anyone can participate. Change does not often come from the most intellectually gifted in their field. If you are passionate about something, you can find a home in the sciences.