While Eva White had always wanted to go to Iceland, she did not expect to find a study abroad program in that country that perfectly suited her academic interests. “With a physics major and environmental studies minor,” says White, “the program in Iceland was perfect for my interests and degree requirements. Plus, it was a program that had me living in many different parts of Iceland, as well as doing a homestay and a lengthy independent research component, all things I was really excited about.”
This trip to Iceland is what led the Catonsville, Maryland, native to her senior thesis topic and eventually what influenced her career path. In Iceland she focused on two of her major interests, climate change and the Arctic.
“When I went [to Iceland], I learned so much from the other people in my program from other US schools, my classes, and the place itself about the possibilities and practical implementations of clean energy,” White said. “Iceland is a leader in geothermal and hydropower, and seeing how they had implemented geothermal electricity, hot water, and even seawater heat pumps to heat households was inspiring for me and gave me tangible implementations of renewable technologies that I could learn from. Traveling around the country, learning how the infrastructure of daily life in Iceland works, living with the land at life’s center, and being around forward-thinking Icelandic environmental professionals, plus my professors and students around me, fueled my love of sustainability work. After seeing and experiencing Iceland, I was sure in my decision to pursue an environmentally oriented thesis and career post-graduation.”
White’s thesis, “Designing a Microgrid for Haverford,” focused on Haverford College’s existing resources and institutional goals while examining the applicability, practicality, and feasibility of installing a microgrid on Haverford’s campus. (A microgrid is a local electrical grid that can operate independently from or concurrently with the larger electrical grid. All microgrids have an element of energy generation and storage, and for Haverford the best options for microgrid components are solar panels and a chemical battery system.)
Her study supported the utility of a microgrid for Haverford with some reservations. The primary benefits of a microgrid for Haverford are clean energy and gross emission reduction, and the primary drawbacks are cost and lack of net emission reduction. In addition to its utility for evaluating the feasibility of a microgrid, this document can inform ongoing carbon neutrality conversations at Haverford.
She credits her thesis advisor, Prof. Suzanne Amador Kane, with essential guidance along the way.
“She helped me with my research by asking important questions, reminding me to stay organized, and linking me with the right people on campus to talk with about my project,” White said. “When there were crises with my results, she helped me handle them, and she helped me guide the evolution of my project through the year as I figured out what questions I wanted it to answer.”
White’s senior thesis allowed her to test out environmental consulting, learn more about Haverford and carbon neutrality at higher educational institutions, and leave a positive impact on her community.
“My thesis can be used in conversations at Haverford about carbon neutrality and possible on-campus renewable installation, and it shows a strong student interest in sustainability practices on campus,” White said. “Future students can write theses concentrating on ways to promote Haverford’s carbon neutrality, possibly modeled off of mine, and I hope that work continues in this vein!”
As for implications of her research, White says she learned a lot about environmental consulting work by doing this project herself, and by talking with consultants and asking them for their expertise. “I also learned about challenges of getting sustainability measures implemented within any type of bureaucracy, and of course about microgrids, the impact of their implementation, how to size them for each site, and how to evaluate if they are well suited for a client.”
Come fall, she’ll be moving to Anchorage, Alaska to work as a Climate Technology Fellow with Launch Alaska as part of the Alaska Fellows Program. “I’m really excited to have a career in decarbonization and green energy, and her thesis in environmental consulting really helped cement her interest in working in this general field. It was really awesome to be able to have a self-designed thesis that allowed me to explore a career field I was really interested in learning more about and testing out.”
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.