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Students immersed in urban planning, clean energy on six-week European Burch Seminar

September 28, 2023 Group photo

This summer, Greg Gangi, associate director for clean technology and innovation and teaching professor, and 20 students enrolled in the Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K.: Sustainability Burch Field Research Seminar spent six weeks in Europe studying urban planning and the clean energy transition.

Europe boasts some of the most sustainably innovative nations in the world, according to Gangi. Students traveled to Freiburg, Germany, Amsterdam, Netherlands and London, England with a few days spent in the Lumbar region of England. The program was co-led by Adam Lovelady, professor of public law and government, and Ivara Goulden, the teaching assistant.

“There’s a lot going on in Europe,” Gangi said. “I thought there were a lot of good lessons, whether it’s energy, urban planning, circular economy, especially offshore wind now. Europe is just pushing the envelope a lot faster than the U.S.” 

During the program, students enrolled in two courses: ENEC 320H: The Future of Energy and ENEC 490H: Special Topics: Europe and Sustainability: Past, Present and Future. Recorded lectures provided the basis of the courses while daily trips supplied real-world applications. 

Students met with industry experts, visited academic institutions and spent time talking with urban planners and policymakers, including the former deputy mayor of Amsterdam.  

Photo by Nicole Coursey.

“My time on the Burch Sustainability study abroad will go down as one of the most defining trips of my life,” said Nicole Coursey, a sophomore environmental studies major. “It exposed me to many parts of sustainability that I had never given much consideration to, like green hydrogen, transportation infrastructure and urban design. As we met with businesses in Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K., I was able to get ideas for future internships and jobs that I might like to pursue.” 

wind mill
Photo by Nicole Coursey.

Students spent two weeks in Freiburg, the epicenter of the German energy transition, according to Gangi. Located in the southwest of Germany, Freiburg is a great example of exemplary urban planning. The central location also prompted day trips to France and Switzerland.  

The group traveled to Amsterdam next, spending eight days exploring technology and innovation. With a population of 17 million people, the Netherlands is on the cutting edge of technology, especially in regard to food exportation. 

Finally, the trip culminated in a three-week stay in the U.K., where students attended the 2023 Global Offshore Wind conference and spoke with representatives from a wide range of companies.  

“The U.K. was a little slow to the global energy transition party,” Gangi shared. “But with offshore wind, it has really jumped in with both feet now. It’s a global leader along with China in offshore wind.” 

Accommodations for the program included a mix of hotels and hostels, providing an opportunity to build community outside of daily trips.  

group photo
Photo by Anthony Buckley.

“The trip was an intense six weeks, but I made some amazing friends and plenty of memories,” said Anthony Buckley, a junior environmental science major. “It was an incredible experience.” 

Although the program may not look exactly the same, Gangi plans to lead a similar Burch seminar in the near future. Previous Burch programs led by Gangi included trips to Ecuador, China, South Korea, Sweden, Germany and Denmark. 

Lovelady and Goulden will lead a similar program next summer, starting in Copenhagen, Denmark. Students will then travel to Hamburg, Germany, and finish the trip in Freiburg, Germany.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Gangi shared. “I look forward to following these students as their careers develop.”

Story by Natalie Peoples
Natalie Peoples is a UNC junior from Kensington, Maryland, pursuing a double major in journalism and environmental science. In addition to her work as a communications intern for the Institute for the Environment, she has experience in photojournalism and environmental research. Peoples plans to pursue a career in environmental journalism with a special interest in marine science.