University of Michigan senior Weronica Myslak is an intern with the Global Warming Mitigation Project’s Constellations Program. The program, which launched this summer in the wake of COVID-19, connects students with virtual positions with worldwide partners taking on the climate crisis.
From her home in Chicago, Weronica works for 10Power, a company that works together with local partners to develop and finance commercial-scale solar projects in Haiti. At Michigan, Weronica studies civil engineering and is passionate about how cities, their people, and their resources can work better together to create important changes.
Weronica sat down with us to discuss her internship experience and tell us more about what she thinks of sustainability, her work this summer in Haiti, and how good climate solutions require attention to the specific needs of the community. Q: Tell us about your internship!
“This summer I had the opportunity to work at 10Power, which is a company that focuses on project development and financing of solar projects — specifically in Haiti. Throughout my internship I learned a lot about solar power. I haven’t worked in the renewable energy sector before, so this was a great opportunity. In the position, I created simulations of renewable systems that are out there — mostly solar or wind. I also ran cost analysis to help determine what kind of energy systems would be the most effective for a specific location, and I had the opportunity to design a solar panel system for a hospital in Haiti. Other responsibilities included creating a database of engineering technologies, such as water equipment or desalination equipment, and summarizing project briefs for investors to give them an overview of what the company was working on. Q: What are you studying and how did you get connected with the Constellations Program?
“I am a rising 4th year student at the University of Michigan. I’m studying civil engineering with minors in sustainable engineering and international engineering. I’m really interested in the technical aspects of different solutions, but more in the ways we connect to sustainability internationally. Earlier this summer I had another internship lined up that was more focused on buildings and construction, but because of COVID-19 I was connected to this opportunity with GWMP. I thought it was really interesting because it was related to sustainability — which is something I’m passionate about — and I saw a lot of openings for all these smaller companies and startups. 10Power really stood out to me because it had an international aspect and was in the energy sector. Q: Do you see yourself working in sustainability in the future?
“Sustainability is definitely something that I want to include in my future professional career. I’m still trying to determine which sector works best for me, but I know I’m interested in transportation and buildings. Thanks to this internship, I’ve become interested in the idea of renewable energy. I want to see where I can best apply my skills to create solutions for a better future.” Q: Tell us more about how you became interested in sustainability and engineering.
“My passion started from my childhood growing up in Chicago. Living in a big city, through all the different interactions with people and different cultures, I started getting really interested in the idea of cities as systems of people and their surroundings. It’s what initially brought me to civil engineering. I was also really interested in math and science, so that brought me to more of the technical topics. I like the way engineering connects to people — how the work we do can impact people’s lives. True sustainability combines solutions that work in terms of the social, economical and environmental impacts to provide a better future for everyone. I not only enjoy topics like transportation, land use, and buildings and construction, but I’m also interested in the resources that fuel cities, like energy or access to water and food.
Throughout my time at Michigan, I was part of an organization called BLUElab. They work with communities to find solutions that fit the needs of that community. I worked with BLUElab Thailand, and I got to work on sustainable flood mitigation solutions with a partner community in northern Thailand. I got to see what it would be like to work in an international sector, and seeing the direct impacts on how what I do helps those communities.” Q: You’ve worked on multiple international projects and were born out of the United States. How have these international experiences influenced you?
“I was born in Poland. I grew up in a very small village with my family. When I was five years old we moved to the United States because my parents wanted to have a better education opportunity for me and my brother. They wanted to provide us a better opportunity to see the world. I think that seeing the world has made me realize that there’s so many positive things about it, but there are so many problems —especially related to climate change. I want people in the future to experience the world in a way that is positive.
My internship allowed me to see how the communities that are already marginalized are also the ones that suffer the most from the effects of climate change. Especially for countries along the equator, or for countries hit really hard by natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes. I think that another important aspect of sustainability is that you can’t just go into a foreign community and build things that you think might work for that community — it’s about having that social aspect. A lot of the solutions are built on human relationships and the people aspect of design, so even though you are working on technical projects or are working on engineering solutions, you always have that human aspect that needs to be at the core of what you do. At 10Power that came with empowering women within the community, including hiring female solar panel installers, and providing training to women. There was an educational component that helped the communities take ownership of the projects.”