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Meet the 2022 Molchanov Scholars

October 2, 2022

Over the summer, six UNC students were paired with environmental organizations across the state to build their skills for a future in an environmental field through internships. These experiences were made possible by the Pavel Molchanov Scholars Program, an endowed internship program that provides students with a $5,000 stipend to support their summer employment. Since its inception in 2019, 18 UNC students have experienced an internship through the Pavel Molchanov Scholars program.

Organizations and interns have continued to adapt to a new normal amid a global pandemic as the world navigates how to continue working with new guidelines and standards to protect public health. Funded by a $1 million gift from Pavel Molchanov, the program matches undergraduate students with environmental internships where students can supplement their academic work with experiential, professional training.

The Pavel Molchanov Scholars program is a partnership between the UNC Institute for the Environment and environmentally-focused small businesses, non-profit organizations and government institutions in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

The UNC Institute for the Environment addresses environmental challenges by developing collaborations among diverse academic fields, public and private partners, and an informed and committed community. Undergraduate students in any environmentally-themed degree program who are interested in tackling complex environmental issues can apply for the Molchanov Scholarship.

Molchanov is a director and equity research analyst at Raymond James & Associates. He joined the firm in 2003 and has since been working as part of the Energy Group, researching oil and gas, renewables, and clean technology. He joined the UNC Institute for the Environment Board of Visitors as a member in 2019, and he also serves as a member of the advisory board at Cool Effect, an environmental project-funding charity.

Meet the 2022 Molchanov Scholars.

Caitlin FlanaganCaitlin Flanagan

Hometown: Carrboro, NC

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?

I want to use my majors in Environmental Studies and Public Policy to contribute to environmental policy causes that mitigate climate change. I would be excited to serve as a legislative director or legal counsel for an environmental or clean energy organization, lobby for environmental causes, or serve as an energy and environmental aide in government. I believe that these careers help align my policy interests, desire for positive impact, and personal abilities.

What was your internship and what was your role?

I was a summer intern for Carolinas Clean Energy Business Association (CCEBA). I got to do a variety of research projects at CCEBA. I researched solar ordinances and elected officials’ stances on solar development in transmission-constrained counties in North Carolina, found information on small modular reactors and hydrogen to go into CCEBA’s comments on Duke’s Carbon Plan, drafted tweets covering my small modular reactor research, and compiled fundraising opportunities. Additionally, I got to attend meetings where CCEBA’s members discussed the regulatory landscape in North Carolina and South Carolina as well as Duke’s Carbon Plan, visit the North Carolina Utilities Commission, and meet North Carolina State Senators and solar professionals at an event to help prioritize clean energy in North Carolina’s legislature.

What has been the most rewarding experience you have had at CCEBA?

I loved seeing that the sources and information that I found researching small modular reactors made it into CCEBA’s comments on Duke’s Carbon Plan. I felt like I contributed to CCEBA’s efforts to make sure that Duke meets the carbon dioxide emissions reduction required by North Carolina’s HB 951 in a tangible way.

What do you think you have gained from your internship?

I have gained insight into the state-level policy process when it comes to clean energy policy, ideas of what my career could look like and how my academics could translate to a job, and great connections. After meeting many clean energy professionals, sitting in on their meetings, building up my background knowledge of clean energy policy issues, and seeing how nonprofits work as intervenors in the policy process, I feel that I have a greater understanding of the “real world” of clean energy. Additionally, I gained two mentors at CCEBA who have been excellent at answering my questions about my projects at CCEBA and about my future/career in environmental policy.

Do you have advice for others pursuing your field of study?

As in other fields, I would recommend looking for the overlap of the skills that you most enjoy/feel most comfortable with, and areas where the most help is needed or where you can make the most positive impact by contributing. Additionally, reach out to potential mentors for their advice and try volunteering or working for a variety of different environmental organizations to see which fit is best for you.

Carlee MaloneCarlee Malone

Hometown: Olney, MD

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?

Although I am still unsure about the specific position I am interested in, I know that I want to be involved in the renewable energy industry. Of course, I am incredibly passionate about sustainability, and clean energy will undoubtedly be one of the most crucial pillars to effectively tackling the issue of climate change. With its unmatched rate of growth, constant evolution, breadth of opportunity, and a mission rooted in forging a cleaner future, I honestly can’t picture myself being anywhere else.

What was your internship and what was your role?

I interned with Strata Clean Energy, a clean energy company founded in Chapel Hill and based in Durham, as a finance intern. Although my day-to-day consisted mainly of composing reports of company financial data, optimizing and codifying financial procedures, and assisting with the analysis of cost projections for our various solar and storage projects, the interns were also given the opportunity to work interdepartmentally and explore solar sites in person.

What has been the most rewarding experience you have had at your internship?

For me, I found our site visit to an active solar farm the most rewarding. It is one thing to work behind the scenes to facilitate the construction of these projects from start to finish, track their performance, and ensure their maintenance and functionality, but actually seeing the results of so much planning and coordination in person felt so gratifying. Also, there is so much you can learn about the ins and outs of solar modules and utility-scale farms from visiting the site in person and hearing directly from the engineers and experts on the field, which I found to be super unique and instructive.

What do you think you have gained from your internship?

I think this is twofold! Firstly, I got a much closer look into the renewables industry. There’s only so much that you can learn from within a classroom; it’s all hypothetical, and sometimes overwhelmingly academic, oversimplified, or out of reach from what feels applicable to the real world. Speaking with real professionals who engage with the financing and development of solar and battery storage projects has taught me more about the clean energy industry’s nuances and how to navigate the various stages in the project life cycle than anything I’ve ever been able to learn before. But, beyond the technical aspects, being able to properly network, navigate a corporate world, make industry connections, and dive head-first into a real-world, business environment has given me so many useful career-oriented skills and resources that will be extremely beneficial for me as I move forward in the workforce!

What advice do you have for others pursuing your field of study?

Don’t be afraid to take risks, ask questions, and experiment a little bit with the specific field that you have an interest in. This industry is so unique in its quick pace, constant evolution, and variety of opportunities. Most people and companies in this field are still constantly learning, rotating through positions, and changing their approach and skillset to adapt to the rapidly evolving technological advances, policies, and socioeconomic trends. With the constant variability, taking risks (whether that means applying for a position you may feel underqualified for, experimenting with a variety of focuses within the field, or reaching out to a professional for a discussion) is so important and absolutely worth your time!

And, to this end, most people that I’ve met in the renewables industry are eager to talk to young people about their experience, give advice, and (try to) answer the many questions that you may have. Try to push yourself to reach out: it can’t hurt, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll make a super valuable connection.

Vy PhamVy Pham

Hometown: Fayetteville, NC

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?

I want to pursue a career in environmental data analytics such as using GIS and R as the tools to analyze and create visualization for the study. The reason that I want to pursue this career is because I realized there is a need for data analytics skills in the environmental field and for whatever we do in this field, we would need to analyze collected data, and deliver so be able to use technological software such as GIS or R or Python would make the task a lot easier.

What was your internship and what was your role?

Greensboro Science Center

What has been the most rewarding experience you have had at your internship?

During the internship, I gained a lot of hands-on experience by going out to the field to bait and trap small mammals to doing lab work such as water quality control. More than that, I had an opportunity to utilize GIS to create home range maps at the study sites to study the impacts of land restoration on small mammals. Thanks to this opportunity, I discovered my interest in data analytics and decided to pursue it after college.

What do you think you have gained from your internship?

I have gained so many essential skills through this internship, and more importantly, I have met so many wonderful people who have expertise in the field and I had the opportunity to learn from them directly.

What advice do you have for others pursuing your field of study?

One piece of advice I would give to others is to try and explore as much as possible in order to find the thing that you are passionate about. An internship is one way to explore it while you are still in college.

Maia SchweikertMaia Schweikert

Hometown: Elkin, NC

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?

After completing my undergraduate studies, I hope to pursue a career in Environmental Law or Environmental Advocacy. I was fortunate enough to grow up in an environment that was peaceful and made me feel safe, however after coming to UNC I became aware of the global environmental inequity that exists. I want to use my position to help ensure communities have access to at least basic environmental rights, such as clean air, water, and other natural resources.

What was your internship and what was your role?

This summer I worked with Sound Rivers as a Water Quality Intern for the Upper Neuse Region. In this position, I primarily assisted Sound Rivers with their participation in the international Swim Guide program, which helps to prevent waterborne illnesses by making people aware of whether recreational waterways are safe. This involved coordinating volunteers to collect samples at popular recreation sites in the Upper Neuse Basin and performing analyses to determine if the samples were contaminated with E. Coli. The results were then published and made available to the public through the Swim Guide and Sound Rivers websites, as well as a text alert system.

I was also able to participate in educational campaigns with Sound Rivers and the Neuse Riverkeeper. This involved engaging in research on topics such as the effects of development on water quality, causes of algal blooms, and other environmentally focused subjects. I then developed videos and pamphlets to share the information with the public.

What has been the most rewarding experience you have had at your internship?

I really enjoyed interacting with all of the volunteers and community members throughout the Summer. It was so interesting to learn about their individual connections with the Neuse River and what inspired their activism.

What do you think you have gained from your internship?

Although I was only working with Sound Rivers for a couple of months, I gained so much insight into possibilities for my future as well as developing my professional skill set.

What advice do you have for others pursuing your field of study?

I would advise others hoping to pursue a career in environmental advocacy to prioritize engaging in fieldwork, even if they may prefer a behind-the-desk approach. There is so much vital knowledge to be gained from the experiences of frontline communities. Fieldwork is also helpful because it helps create a better understanding of the scientific reasoning that influences policy.

*Jared Henry and Madhavi Trikha will be featured at a later date.