Chris Hillebrand is one of the most passionate graduate students you’ll meet. This Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) in Energy Systems student wants to usher in widespread use of sustainable energy practices and finds that the Energy Systems degree is helping him to achieve that goal, “By studying Energy Systems, I hoped to equip myself with all the tools I would need to be someone who could play a part in the energy transition to come in the next few decades.”
Chris Hillebrand came to University of Illinois to pursue his M.Eng. in Energy Systems after earning his Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering with a minor in Analytical Chemistry from Tennessee Technological University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Finance from Tennesee Technological University as well. Chris is seeking to develop the “ability in industry to not only evaluate projects on whether or not they will physically work, but also if they are cost effective for both the consumer and the company.” He concluded that a professionally-oriented Energy Systems M.Eng. coupled with an MBA would help him to gain the skills needed to make such evaluations.
When Chris considered where he should pursue an Energy Systems degree, Illinois Engineering’s professional Master of Engineering in Energy Systems appealed to him because of its flexibility and focus on industry preparedness. As a student, he’s found that these are “two areas where (Illinois) shines.” About his experience, he shares, “As a student in the Energy Systems program, you are allowed to tailor basically your entire schedule to whatever your interests might be as long as you have a suitable background and it’s justifiable within your stated focuses. For me, this meant learning more about solar energy as well as electrochemical storage. This gives you the freedom to utilize the extensive course list at the school for whatever it is you’d like to learn in a professional setting. In addition to this, the program includes ample opportunities to develop those ‘soft skills’ that are crucial in industry while also having access to the helpful career services department in finding that right job after graduation.”
Chris has really optimized his experience at Illinois by taking business courses that will count toward his MBA, completing a design project and an internship, and really standing out as a leader in the program by advising fellow and prospective students, presenting at orientations, and providing opportunities to his program colleagues to continue his design projects after he graduates. Senior Coordinator of MEng programs Amy McCullough shares “The M.Eng. in Energy Systems Program Director Professor Rizwan Uddin has referred to Chris as ‘one of our rising stars’ and I couldn’t agree more. I am so excited to see what is in store for Chris when he graduates this December. Just as he has been a leader within our program, I believe he is going to be a future leader in the energy field.”
This past summer, Chris completed an internship with Cypress Creek Renewables’ Economic Development Department where he focused on “identifying prime opportunities for solar development in the future across the entire nation where Cypress Creek could be the first mover into the market. It really helped to reaffirm the fact that I wanted to focus in the part of the industry that seeks to identify profitable opportunities for solar and energy storage development.” Chris chose the opportunity at Cypress from a number of internship offers because of his diligence in searching for an ideal internship. To students wondering what it takes to line up the ideal internship, Chris advises: “Be diligent about applying, learn how to sell yourself and your skills, and prepare for interviews. It will make a world of a difference and make the moment you finally sit down in the perfect job you want all the more satisfying.”
Chris is slated to graduate with a Master of Engineering in Energy Systems from Illinois and a Master of Business Administration from Tennessee Technological University. The dual degrees will prepare him to work with a “dynamic and ambitious company that focuses in the development of solar energy systems and that provides the option of being connected to energy storage devices. The intermittent nature of renewables likely represents the largest problem facing their widespread implementation and working at a company that is at the forefront of this field would be both exciting and potentially highly profitable.”
He advises students entering the program to plan ahead. Two to three semesters are over before you know it, “So while this expedient process is great, you have to be diligent about making sure you make the most out of it. Plan ahead, apply to full-time positions early, and get involved with projects as soon as possible.”
Update: Chris graduated from the Energy Systems program in December 2018.