Name: Steven Tulevech
Hometown: Morehead City
High School: North Carolina School of Science/Math
Major: Environmental Science
Minor(s): Information Science (and maybe English!)
Expected Graduation: May 2019
What drew you to your major?
I started at UNC with plenty of issues that I was curious and concerned about, but not really sure how to match these to one of many appealing major/minor tracks. I learned about a host of environmental topics in high school, and knew that I wanted to somehow continue working in energy and the environment after graduation. Of course, this could just as easily be done through something like engineering, business, computer science, biology, or marine science. I think what set env. science and the ENEC department apart for me was 1) the huge focus on experiences (research, field sites, study abroad, clean tech summit, unique classes), and 2) the tangible efforts made by faculty and advisors to mold the program to my own personal interests, while connecting me to countless opportunities along the way. At all times it feels like the department is looking ahead and reinventing itself, while also looking to help you reach the next step toward your own goals. I remember even in high school receiving an email from Greg Gangi, an enthusiastic invitation for me to come to campus, meet and ask my many questions about field sites, environment dual-degree programs, and career opportunities in the world of energy. Another thing he told me: a recent study on campus found that ENEC majors were among the most satisfied with their degrees. I needed no more explanation.
What is the most meaningful experience you’ve had at—or related to—UNC?
As I write this, I’m actually in Thailand–about 5 months through IE’s 7-month Energy and Environment Thailand Field Site. Without a doubt, this has been one of the most eye-opening and transformative experiences in my life so far. No one in my family and only a few of my friends have ever been to Asia, much less to a country as day to America’s night as Thailand. Already I’ve learned so much in my short time here. As a student I’ve taken courses in life cycle assessment, atmospheric chemistry, energy technologies, and energy use in buildings. These classes have culminated in my capstone research project, a consulting study that sought to estimate “life cycle” material use, energy use, and air emissions for a 15,000m2 German factory building under construction near Bangkok. Aside from a few finalizations which remain, the factory is set to be one of Thailand’s first certified green industrial buildings, and I’m glad to have played a role in its becoming.
While taking five ENEC classes and a summer of research in my major area has helped me a lot, I must say I’ve grown much more as a person from simply living in Thailand and engaging in a largely new and different way of life. I’ve learned a bit of Thai, celebrated major Thai holidays, traveled Southeast Asia, and made lifelong friends from countries all around the world. Life in Thailand is vibrant, beautiful, chaotic, and sometimes downright hilarious. I love every bit of it. Living abroad has granted me an immense confidence in my ability to adapt and thrive in difficult circumstances, even when I have only myself to rely on.
Have you completed any research?
Although I’m concentrating in energy systems, I spent the summer of 2016 doing research in coastal ecosystem-friendly engineering as part of the IDEA “Increasing Diversity and Enhancing Academia” NSF undergraduate research program, also supported by IE. For 10 weeks, I got to work with a grad student on her project designing and evaluating better, more livable shorelines as alternatives to destructive concrete walls and riprap boulder mounds. These living shorelines, typically sloped marshes with a protective sill, would help coastal ecosystems rebound while better protecting valuable coastal real estate and costing less than typical hard structures. I spent much of my summer in the field, traveling to remote areas across the tidewater areas of NC to take samples, simulate experimental shores, and getting to know the challenges of local residents struggling to cope with erosion, sea level rise, and stronger tropical systems near their homes. When it came time to design my independent project, I chose to look at how fish behave in schools around these newly constructed structures. In presence of a deadly predator, for example, did prey choose to use the living shoreline for refuge, and did more survive? While this sounds specific, a key question in the shoreline engineering field is about whether these structural changes will aid biodiversity and prey survivorship, which in turn translate to healthier predator populations and a boost to recreational and commercial fishing. As it turns out, I found that the living shorelines did in fact increase survival rates (among several other counterintuitive trends), each of which had statistical significance. Building on this, in the next few months, I hope to refine some of my results work on a journal submission.
Who is your biggest influence?
It’s tough to choose just one. I’d have to say my family, because every member of my family has had such a strong influence on the direction I’ve chosen. My grandfather paid his way through college and medical school playing the accordion on the streets of Manhattan. Together he and my grandmother started one of the first ophthalmology practices on Long Island. They’ve always embodied this spirit of hard work while at the same time making your business a cause you care deeply about.
I look up to my parents a great deal, as well. Both studied at university and got good jobs but ended up leaving them to do something completely different. I think having the courage to do the things you really believe in is so important, and even more so when the path to your dreams is not already laid out. Remaining curious and realizing that “wisdom is the realization that you know nothing” (as Socrates reminds us) are other key lessons they have taught me.
What is your dream job?
I’m not sure if my dream job exists quite yet, but there are several awesome positions that come close. I want to work as a project manager, somewhere at the intersection of
renewable energy technologies and smart city planning. Working as a project manager on utility-scale solar, for example, has always been a place where I’ve envisioned myself. I secretly get a little giddy when I read news updates (always on UtilityDive) about topics like brand new utility-scale renewables projects, savvy public transport plans, vehicle to grid storage, or outlandish technologies like wireless electric transmission.
Recently I’ve thought about how cool it’d be to work at a think tank or one those “innovation departments” some companies have. At the moment, I’m trying to develop a skill set akin to a savvy analyst, with the end goal of being prepared to solve data-driven energy challenges or help decision makers improve city intelligence via the internet of things. To do this, I’m actually strongly considering doing the new BS-MS dual degree program in Environmental Informatics– where I hope to learn much more about interpretation and data management, while being able to apply that to help a company or institution solve more complex energy problems.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Just do the Environmental Science major at UNC!