I obtained my undergraduate degree in Honors Co-operative Chemistry from the University of Waterloo. From an early stage in my education, I was intrigued about understanding molecular interactions and functions on a microscopic scale in order to manipulate them towards solutions for a sustainable planet. By the end of my undergraduate program, I had taken technical electives that introduced me to topics such as storage techniques and energy conversion methods. This peaked my interest in the field of Energy Systems, steering me towards further continuing my studies.
Did you consider other institutions for the program, and why did you choose Illinois?
Having been a part of the co-operative education program at the University of Waterloo, I had gained as much work experience as I had academic knowledge. I knew that when searching for graduate programs, the ability to gain industry experience would remain equally as crucial as broadening my knowledge of Energy Systems. For this reason, I instantly connected with the Energy Systems program at UIUC given its flexible curriculum and professional development requirement. The program design enables students to pick a Primary and Secondary field of their choice, encouraging them to expand their pre-existing knowledge while providing the opportunity to venture new disciplines. With respect to the professional development aspect of the program, there is flexibility to choose from a practicum, project or coursework. The Energy Systems program at UIUC checked off every requirement on my checklist, easily making it my first choice.
What made you decide to pursue a Master of Engineering in Energy Systems degree?
The naive sixth grade version of myself, after watching Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, will tell you that she wants to save the world from climate change! Truthfully, the answer has not changed much. Pursuing a graduate degree in Energy Systems seemed like a natural transition for me when I recognized the need for incorporating sustainable technologies and practices in our communities. I envision a reality where everyone is collaborating to reduce their carbon footprint, actively making changes that mitigates the effect of global warming. I hope to have gained the skill-set to spearhead and guide these changes in the coming years.
What type of professional development do you want to complete as part of the degree program?
One of the reasons why Energy Systems at UIUC was my number one choice was the opportunity to finish a practicum as part of the program. Some of the key issues associated with renewable energy is the intermittency of the energy source, the lack of efficiency with which that energy is converted to usable power and the inability to store large amounts of power for extended periods time. I chose for my primary field to be Chemistry and Materials Science and my secondary field to be Solar Energy, so that I can focus on working towards improving solar panel efficiencies or developing suitable batteries for long term storage. I hope to complete a practicum wherein I can contribute to the development, implementation or analysis of such technologies.
What type of energy-related projects are you involved in on campus?
I recently joined the Solar Decathlon Design Team under the Photovoltaics and Electrical sub-team. As part of this team, we are required to design a feasible stand-alone PV system for a building of our choice. For example, this year we have chosen to construct a mixed use building, which will require us to design a system that will generate enough power for both commercial and residential uses. I am super excited about being a member of this team because it allows me to practice all the knowledge I have gained from my courses towards a real life application.
What do you hope to do with the M.Eng. in Energy Systems degree once you graduate?
My initial hopes upon completing this degree was to work with a company whose focus is on improving photovoltaic technologies and developing efficient batteries for storage purposes. Some of the disadvantages to solar energy is its intermittency and high capital cost. I wish to apply this degree towards reverting these disadvantages and making photovoltaics a part of every household. Having been a part of this program for two months now, I have also been introduced to several new avenues of work that I could venture. For instance, I am fascinated by microgrid technology which focuses on the implementation of a greener and more reliable grid that generates electricity for smaller regions. With this degree, I have the option and flexibility to apply my skill-set towards many different fields. I am excited to see what opportunities present themselves!
What is your favorite place in Champaign-Urbana?
Coming from Canada, where buildings and institutions are far more condensed, I had never seen a gym as big as the one at the Activities and Recreation Centre (ARC) at UIUC. There is nothing as refreshing as squeezing in a workout, playing badminton or table tennis to help unwind after a long day of classes and assignments. Don’t forget to try the best soft serve ever at Jarlings Custard Cup and catch a show at The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. For fellow photographers, UIUC has some beautiful architecture and fall colors are stunning at the UIUC Arboretum. There’s something for everyone in Urbana-Champaign.
Update: Sanjana is now an alum of the Energy Systems program.