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Molchanov Scholars gain valuable experience amid pandemic

January 28, 2022

Over the summer, five 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, 12 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 work 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 2021 Scholars.

Taylor FitzgeraldTaylor Fitzgerald

Hometown: Asheville, NC

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?
Currently, I am working towards a dual degree in environment and science communication. As I have finished my undergraduate degree in environmental studies and am finishing up my graduate degree in strategic communication, I wish to work with companies, businesses and organizations that are either sustainably focused or wish to grow their sustainability efforts once I have graduated from the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. I hope to do so by using my knowledge and experience gained at UNC and through the Pavel Molchanov Scholars Program to direct their communication strategies while also focusing on sustainability.

What specifically were you doing at NCSEA?
While working as a communications intern at NCSEA, I took part in assisting with general communication efforts as well as policy-focused communications. I worked among the communications and policy team to complete tasks such as…

  • Creating content for Policy Update newsletter
  • Crafting policy-related social media post language for NCSEA’s Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Conducting research on energy policy issues
  • Writing a long-form report on the cost of clean energy in North Carolina
  • Drafting language for web pages and documents
  • Updating sections of the website as needed
  • Writing bi-monthly blog posts
  • Assisting with policy-related press releases
  • Attending both communications and policy team meetings
  • Attending meetings with business association members

What has been the most rewarding experience you have had at NCSEA?
My most rewarding experience while working at NCSEA was starting off creating communication materials with quite a bit of assistance from my advisers but then towards the end, I became familiar with NCSEA’s communication strategies and technological tools used that I was able to complete most of the work independently. I feel that I gained a lot of experience in strategic communication and became familiar with tools such as WordPress that will help me in my future career.

Do you have advice for others pursuing your field of study?
I would recommend that you try working at various types of organizations as, for example, small businesses, non-profits and corporations all operate at very different wavelengths when it comes to their communication efforts. I believe having a wide variety of experience among different types of organizations will help you discover what wavelength works best for you.


Summer LanierSummer Lanier

Hometown: Willow Spring, NC

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?
I want to continue working in the renewable energy industry, ideally with a focus on solar energy and data analytics. I am very interested in the geopolitical challenges surrounding renewable energy integration and hope to continue making efforts to find and implement creative solutions as we transition the energy grid to rely more heavily on renewables.

What specifically were you doing at Strata Clean Energy, LLC?
I was an intern within the Supply Chain department and led various automation efforts to increase their efficiency, while also helping the team with day to day vendor communications and qualification efforts. The other interns and I also collaborated with writing a children’s book, communicating the benefits of solar energy in a fun and kid-friendly format, which I was able to illustrate.

What has been the most rewarding experience you have had at Strata Clean Energy, LLC?
The most rewarding experience I have had at Strata Clean Energy was visiting a site called Fort Powhatan in Virginia, which is the largest MWAC rated solar farm that Strata has built to date. It was especially interesting because different arrays on the site were at different stages of development, so I was able to see almost every step of the construction process in just one day. It allowed me to have a deeper understanding of the construction process, as well as the many pieces of equipment found on a solar farm and how they all work and come together to provide energy.

Do you have advice for others pursuing your field of study?
The renewable energy industry is young and will experience undeniable growth in its future. I worked with so many different types of people, all with a huge variety of college degrees, experiences, and job titles. There is a place for nearly everyone in this industry to find something they love. For me, that involves data analysis, but for you, it could be anything. There is no one type of employee at a solar energy company; start with what you love and make it happen!


Jessica ReidJessica Reid

Hometown: Apex, NC

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?
I would like to pursue a career communicating about the environment to further the transition to renewable, clean energy and slow climate change. Growing up in Apex, North Carolina, I saw a lot of development and knew I wanted to study sustainability at UNC. I am in the Environment and Science Communication dual-degree program, so as a current senior I am finishing my environmental studies bachelor’s degree and am starting my master’s degree in media and communication at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. During my sophomore and junior years, I had the opportunity to write and publish a book about environmental communication. Doing research on this topic allowed me to talk with experts in the field and understand the necessity of taking climate action as well as the power of communication to spur change. Our society has the ability to stop devastating impacts from climate change, but we must communicate about environmental problems and solutions in order to encourage politicians, business leaders, and individuals to take the necessary steps. I hope to lead change through work at an environmentally responsible business, nonprofit, or government agency. Experiences in the field, like my internship at Carolina Solar Services, have solidified my passion for this path.

What specifically were you doing at Carolina Solar Services?
At Carolina Solar Services, I was a communications intern. I identified communications opportunities through a communications audit. Then I created internal and external communications materials (such as newsletters, flyers, and employee profiles) to develop a public relations voice and grow the company’s customer base in order to support its work accelerating the energy transition. One of the main projects I worked on was supporting Carolina Solar Services’ inaugural Solar Safety Week, which featured daily speakers about best practices for safety in the solar industry. I helped promote the event and create highlight videos afterward. Since my summer internship, I have continued to assist with project management and content creation as a part-time intern.

What has been the most rewarding experience you have had at Carolina Solar Services?
The most rewarding experience I had at Carolina Solar Services was visiting a solar site. I got to tour the site and learn more about the way solar energy works as well as sustainable land use from having livestock on solar farms. After creating lots of communication materials about solar energy at my internship and learning about solar energy in my classes, it was exciting to see a site up close. Overall, it was also very rewarding to work with and learn from many wonderful people at Carolina Solar Services. I enjoyed being in a supportive, positive environment.

Do you have advice for others pursuing your field of study?
I recommend that students pursuing a career in the environmental field gain a strong combination of knowledge and skills. Being in the Environment and Science Communication program has helped me gain environmental knowledge and communications skills. I have learned about sustainability, energy, and environmental law and policy, and this knowledge helps me confidently write about environmental topics. Through my strategic communications classes, I have developed many skills, such as writing for different audiences and creating a variety of communications materials, like news releases and profiles. Additionally, I recommend following experts in the field on social media—and talking with them if you can—to understand different ways of thinking and communicating.


Nate ShroyerNate Shroyer

Hometown: Matthews, NC

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?
After finishing my degree, I plan to pursue a career in sustainability consulting to further develop my understanding of how clean practices can be integrated into every part of society.  After some time spent consulting, I expect to pursue other opportunities in clean energy, specifically wind or solar and maybe even hydrogen.  I have always been extremely interested in clean energy as there can be no future without it.

What specifically were you doing at Birdseye?
Birdseye gives their interns the rewarding experience of a diverse internship.  I worked most of my time with the business development team: filling out RFPs and discussing how solar projects can be financed and developed.  Furthermore, I spent a significant amount of time working on a research project focused at increasing profits from vegetative solar farms through carbon credits.  I worked on this will my fellow intern Stephanie Caddell and presented it to the entirety of the Birdseye family at the end of our summer.  Finally, the rest of my time was spent pioneering the transition of CRMs for the company.  This included transferring contacts and setting up models of how the business could be streamlined through a software.

What has been the most rewarding experience you have had at Birdseye?
The most rewarding experience from my Birdseye internship was seeing how my work as an intern could be useful for the company.  As far as I know, work that I did as an intern is still being worked on and used to this day.  Making an impact was something I did not expect to do as an intern, but they all treated me like a part of their team.

Do you have advice for others pursuing your field of study?
If I had any advice for someone working in environmental sciences and combatting climate change, it would be to do what you know is right.  There are many companies out there attempting to do right by the world and live a more sustainable lifestyle.  By being proactive and confident, you can make a concrete difference.


Aleah TilsonAleah Tilson

Hometown: Hope Mills, NC

What type of career do you want to pursue and why?
Environmental law. I want to use legal pathways to help create a cleaner, sustainable world for us all. I’d like to do my part to create legal frameworks and advocate for policies that protect our natural resources.

What specifically were you doing at Sound Rivers?
At Sound Rivers, I primarily worked on two things—Swim Guide and a research project focused on biogas usage in North Carolina. Swim Guide is an awesome program that SR rolls out in the summer, whereby I coordinated a team of volunteers to sample popular recreation sites on the Upper Neuse River. Each week, I got hands-on lab experience by running e. coli tests on those samples. With those water quality results, SR advised the public on areas that were safe for recreational use. For my research project, I dug into North Carolina’s current policy surrounding biogas usage on CAFOs, and compared my findings with other states who use it. It was an interesting look into the state’s approach to food production and energy production, as well as useful for identifying what improvements we can make to make this energy source cleaner.

What has been the most rewarding experience you have had at Sound Rivers?
Getting to know my Swim Guide volunteers was wonderful. They were all environmentally-passionate individuals dedicated to keeping their waterways clean and safe. Their engagement made my experience with the program extremely rewarding.

Do you have advice for others pursuing your field of study?
Even if you feel like you want to take a behind-the-desk approach to environmentalism, I encourage everyone seeking this sort of career to get hands-on experience, whether that be volunteering for a great nonprofit like Sound Rivers, or simply being outside, being mindful of how we use our resources. I think having a genuine appreciation for the environment makes the job all the more worthwhile.