Student elevates wind energy career through online degree program

When Abby Watson first enrolled in Penn State’s Energy and Sustainability Policy (ESP) program, she didn’t realize she would advance her career before completing her degree. Through one course assignment, Watson was able to show her company — Gamesa, a wind industry leader that manufactures wind turbines and maintains wind farms in more than 50 countries — that she was qualified for a newly created position directly related to her studies.

Every student in the ESP program, which is taught online through Penn State World Campus, takes a capstone course in which students synthesize what they’ve learned into one presentation and deliver it to stakeholders. Students are encouraged to provide formal comment at public policy hearings or present to citizen groups, policy makers, advocacy groups or other stakeholder parties. Watson chose to make her presentation to her co-workers — staff from Gamesa sales, marketing and general counsel departments.

“I delivered a policy briefing on the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit, which provides economic benefits to companies that produce wind energy. It was a comprehensive presentation on the future outlook of policy, what quirks had gone into developing it and how it had benefited the wind energy industry. These were true stakeholders who knew the policy landscape well, so I needed to make sure I had all my facts straight,” said Watson.

It was that presentation that helped her change her role in the company from sales specialist to the role she holds today—government affairs and communications manager.

“It was a new position and the company was looking for someone with previous governmental lobbying experience, which I didn’t have. But that capstone presentation helped me to demonstrate that, even though I didn’t have the work experience in the field yet, my educational program has done a lot to prepare me,” she said.

As Gamesa’s government affairs and communications manager, Watson stays up to date with ongoing legislation changes and how proposed laws might affect the wind industry. Watson also works closely with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which lobbies Congress for policies beneficial to wind energy.

“My job is to gain as much insight as possible into U.S. policy outlook for wind energy, to keep corporate management informed of how changes in the political landscape could impact our business so we can plan our operations accordingly,” she said.

The ESP program as a whole — not just the capstone course — was instrumental in preparing her for this position.

“I got experience with writing policy briefs through many courses I took and I learned about the legislative process that goes into creating policies and who the important players are. The ESP program gave me a solid base for understanding the political landscape and policy-making process, as well as how to look at constituents on either side of the political spectrum and understand their motivations,” she said. “I honed many skills through the ESP program that are now a regular part of my job today.”

For Watson, her new career is allowing her to spend her days close to a passion that she began cultivating as a high school student at Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts.

“I had an advanced placement [AP] environmental science class and in that class I remember watching a video about how global warming impacts developing nations. It seemed to me that those countries really are suffering the most from climate change and are least equipped to deal with it, even though they have contributed the least. I felt that it was an incredible injustice and I wanted to do something to help right that wrong,” she said.

After graduating from high school, Watson enrolled in a geology program but had to withdraw due to financial difficulties. She put her studies on hold and entered the workforce full-time as a receptionist for a construction risk management company that handled renewable energy projects. She then slowly began working her way up in sales positions in the renewable energy field. Enrolling in the ESP program has helped her make a huge — and satisfying — jump in her career, she said.

“I’m graduating this December, and I can’t wait. But I’m more excited that the ESP program has given me a chance to work with wind energy policy, which I feel passionate about,” said Watson. “I love my job, and I can’t believe I get to do this for a living.”

About the Penn State bachelor of arts in energy and sustainability policy program:

Launched in 2010, the bachelor of arts in energy and sustainability policy is a 121-credit degree program developed by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and offered exclusively online through Penn State World Campus. The curriculum is designed to teach students to analyze, synthesize and communicate diverse information about global trends in energy policy, technologies and economics. 

Last Updated December 08, 2015