The GREEN Program: Empowering tomorrow’s renewable energy leaders

When most people think of an exciting spring break trip, they may envision a laid-back tropical destination, complete with warm weather and sandy beaches. But for a handful of students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, this year’s spring break included a jam-packed trip to Iceland to explore a country that is a world leader in renewable energy through an innovative new program -- the Global Renewable Energy Education Network or GREEN program.

Founded in 2009 by a group of Rutgers University students in their dorm room, the GREEN program is an alternative study abroad program whose main focus is to educate passionate college students from across the globe about the role renewable energy can have in our lives. Self-described as “the experiential education program for tomorrow’s renewable energy and sustainability leaders,” GREEN  "is dedicated to accelerating careers for today’s students to transition into tomorrow’s socially responsible, innovative, green conscious, leaders of the world."

During this trip, Iceland: Renewable Energy and Sustainability, 29 students from 12 different universities spent eight days in Iceland, splitting their time between touring renewable energy plants and attending classes at Reykjavik University. The program gave students behind-the-scenes access to geothermal, hydropower, and biofuel plants where they were exposed to some of the newest, cutting-edge sustainable energy technologies. The students also had time to experience the country’s raw beauty. The trip included many outdoor adventure excursions such as glacier walking, super-jeeping, hiking, lava tube exploring, and visits to waterfalls.  

GREEN program students watch biofuel demonstration.

Students watch a biofuel demonstration led by a professor from Reykjavik University. The biofuel demonstrated is created from rapeseed oil and can be combined directly with diesel fuel to power cars.

Image: Emily Fucinato

For the program’s capstone project, teams of three to four students were challenged to select a type of renewable energy and invent a new use for it. During the week, teams developed business plans, financial outlines, and investigated the environmental, social, and political impact of implementing a new renewable energy system. Upon completion of the capstone project, students received one-and-a-half academic credits that can be used to fulfill any of the three general education requirement categories at Penn State -- humanities, arts, or social sciences.

GREEN program students tour Burfell Hydropower Station.

Students get a behind the scences look into the control room at Búrfell Hydropower Station. Located near the head of the Thorsardalur Valley in South Iceland, Búrfell Hydropower Station produces enough power annually to run 136,000 electric stoves simultaneously. Nearly all electrical energy used in Iceland is produced by renewable energy resources, with hydropower producing more than 75 percent.

Image: Emily Fucinato

Participating in the GREEN program gives the students additional benefits outside of networking and school credit; participants also receive automatic advancement into both the sustainable energy and sustainable energy engineering master’s programs at Reykjavik University’s Iceland School of Energy, as well as letters of recommendation from program leaders and exclusive membership to the GREEN Alumni network. To date, the alumni network encompasses around 1,000 members from 150+ universities worldwide, 80+ members of which are from Penn State. Other GREEN program benefits for students include developing leadership skills, forming life-long friendships with other students, and gaining insight to all aspects of the renewable energy industry, including business, engineering, and environmental policy.

GREEN program students tour Reykjavik University’s Iceland School of Energy

At Reykjavik University’s Iceland School of Energy, students learn about some of the cutting edge technologies employed throughout the university. Every light within this building has its own IP address and is linked to sensors on the windows and glass roof allowing the lights to be dimmed and brightened according to the natural outside light.

Image: Emily Fucinato

Ben Boucher, a sophomore in meteorology, said, “The most valuable thing I took away from this trip was the idea that people from all different backgrounds and majors share some of the same common goals, and that we can all work together to create a more sustainable world.”

The GREEN program is an exciting opportunity for students in any field of study to enhance their resume, and many alumni have greatly benefited from this program. Dan Connor, a 2013 Penn State graduate in energy engineering and energy business and finance and GREEN alum, related, “GREEN gave me an edge in the interview process. Partly because of GREEN, I got interviews with four companies and every single one of them asked about GREEN ….I received three job offers.”

GREEN Participants have started their own energy consulting firms, won awards for global food security, landed prestigious internships, and brought their capstone projects to life. Companies that employ GREEN alumni range across the spectrum, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dow Chemical Company, Electrical Components International, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Patent Office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bechtel Corporation, General Electric and Schlumberger.

Adam Phoebe, a 2012 Penn State graduate in energy engineering, attended one of GREEN’s Costa Rica programs on Renewable Energy and Sustainability and is now working for the GREEN program as their program director of global operations. .

Phoebe’s journey began simply enough. He said, “As a junior in energy engineering, I was faced with a rigorous course curriculum all while trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life after college. Flash forward to Costa Rica, where little did I know those 12 days would change the rest of my life.” 

Phoebe explained how GREEN provided him with a real world experience, “We went to visit a local wind farm, and that little light bulb in my head finally clicked on. I was able to connect the turbine information and equations I had learned in class to how they relate to the physical turbine in front of me. I knew that after completing the program I needed to find a job that was in the renewable energy field.”

Phoebe further described how GREEN turned his whole world upside down, “GREEN opened my eyes to a whole new world and way of thinking, giving me a true sense of direction. I was no longer striving for a high paid cubical lifestyle. I knew I had to find a career that would allow me to grow, be creative, and make a positive impact in the world.”

Seeing the amazing stories stemming from this program, Stacy Davidson, academic adviser in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, brought the GREEN program to the college a few years ago, building a six-credit course around the GREEN program in Costa Rica. Although the Costa Rica program is not currently offered, GREEN offers several other program options in addition to Iceland: Renewable Energy and Sustainability. Two of them are hosted in Iceland: Leave No Trace: Sustainable Wilderness Travel and an Educator’s Program targeted towards young professionals. Just recently, the GREEN program unveiled two new programs, Peru: Global Water Initiatives and Sustainable Development, and Philadelphia: Sustainable Development and Urban Regeneration.

The efforts of the GREEN program have not gone unnoticed; it was named by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) as one of the top three student-founded companies in the world, and has also been recognized as a Top Social Impact Venture by the United Nations (UN). Not too shabby, for a handful of determined college students.

Phoebe concurred, “Seeing a group of young people who were so passionate about what they were doing was one of the most inspiring aspects of the program.” One of the GREEN Program co-founders, Melissa Lee, a 2011 Rutgers graduate in organizational and intercultural communication, talked about her experiences with the program. "Experiencing new travels, cultures, education, and adventures are a privilege, but sharing them with hundreds of the most passionate student leaders from around the world every day is what makes what we do at The GREEN Program rewarding. The level of impact that we see GREEN Alumni create when they go back to their university and local community after their experience with GREEN is incomparable with what we've seen with any other program abroad. This is why we continue doing what we do - we're passionate about social impact, just like our students."

The GREEN program continues to break down the walls of traditional classroom learning and gives students an out-of-the-box educational experience that they will surely remember for a lifetime.

For more information about the GREEN program visit https://www.thegreenprogram.com/ online.

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Last Updated April 22, 2014