Kate Venturini is a research associate at the University of Rhode Island, serving many cooperative extension programs through the College of the Environment and Life Sciences. Since 2012, Venturini has supported the growth of the URI Energy Fellows program through mentor solicitation, student recruitment, program development and strategy. She earned both her bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture (2006) and master’s degree in marine affairs (2010) from URI.
Having served more than 100 URI students to date, and now formally positioned to support and complement other efforts to shore up Rhode Island’s burgeoning energy workforce (e.g. WindWinRI, URI Certificate in Energy Economics and Policy), Venturini and her URI colleagues are actively recruiting businesses, nonprofits and individuals working in the energy sector to sign on as 2019 Energy Fellows program mentors, as well as sponsors who may have an interest in supporting student fellowships without the mentoring responsibility.
PBN: When was the URI Energy Fellows program launched and what is its aim?
VENTURINI: Established in 2008 through cooperative extension programming, the University of Rhode Island’s Energy Fellows program provides yearlong paid experiential learning opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students passionate about sustainable-energy issues.
The program seeks to develop students interested in energy careers by providing networking opportunities; intensive professional development and topical energy trainings; and venues for real-world, project-based learning through partnerships with private businesses.
Students gain a world view of the energy-business ecosystem in Rhode Island through the program and, upon completion of their fellowship, become part of a broadening cohort of alumni working in, and leading, Rhode Island’s energy sector upon completion.
PBN: What are the eligibility guidelines for interested students?
VENTURINI: Undergraduate and graduate students in good academic standing with a strong interest in energy issues and sustainability are encouraged to apply. Students must exhibit motivation and desire to gain experience outside the traditional college classroom and build professional skills through active participation in training and networking events.
PBN: Which local companies have students partnered with in the past?
VENTURINI: We have worked with a range of energy-related businesses throughout Rhode Island to provide experiential opportunities to Energy Fellows over the past 11 years. Optimal Energy Inc. [Providence], National Grid [Providence], R.I. Commerce Corp. [Providence], RISE Engineering [Cranston], Green Development LLC [North Kingstown], Newport Biodiesel Inc. [Newport] and others have served as mentors to our students, hiring some after they complete the program.
PBN: What does annual student enrollment in the program look like and how has that trended in the past few years?
VENTURINI: The URI Energy Fellows program is employer- and student-centric; our ability to provide experiential learning opportunities through fellowships depends on employer willingness to serve as mentors. In 2018, we had 11 fellows working across the energy sector on energy conservation outreach, energy-consumption data benchmarking and analysis, renewable-energy siting and design, and energy policy projects.
We are ramping up to expand the program and are currently seeking mentors for the 2019 program year.
PBN: How do you feel participation in this program better prepares URI students for careers in the energy sector?
VENTURINI: Rhode Island is at the epicenter of progressive energy policy and project development, and energy fellows are uniquely positioned to fill gaps in the workforce in order to meet the needs of our changing energy ecosystem.
With a growing need for energy education as we diversify energy sources in the Northeast, along with the development of offshore wind farms and a continued commitment to energy efficiency at the state and local levels, there will be jobs [in this industry] and our students will be ready to take them.