Advancing Renewable Energy Through Research
Kaleigh Hill '23
Commonwealth Honors College
What drew you to this field of study?
As a lifelong nature enthusiast, I have always aspired to a career in working to improve sustainability and the health of the natural environment. My coursework in the Department of Resource Economics emphasized the importance of sound public policy to achieving environmental goals. The more I have learned about policy impacts and implementation, the more exciting I find this field. I love the challenge of balancing the needs of the economy with the needs of the environment and its inhabitants.
How do you conduct your research?
I have contributed to several renewable energy and energy efficiency projects locally and statewide. I have studied the drivers of and barriers to residential solar adoption, and the impacts of net metering policies on households in Massachusetts. I also performed a cost-benefit analysis of the Town of Amherst’s proposed solar farm. Currently, I am working on my honors thesis, conducting a quantitative analysis to determine whether household income is correlated with participation in energy efficiency retrofit programs in Holyoke, Mass. While each of these projects is unique, I employ the same approach in my research. I conduct data analysis, combining various data sets, and employ quantitative methods to better understand the influences on and impacts of energy efficiency and renewable energy policies.
What do you see as the impact—or potential impact—of your work?
I hope that my research will influence environmental policymakers to address existing inefficiencies and inequalities and make renewable energy and energy efficiency programs more accessible to everyone.
How does your faculty mentor support your research?
My faculty mentor, Dr. Christine Crago, accepted me as a research assistant at the end of my freshman year after I took an interest in her work. She taught me foundational research skills, such as how to write a literature review and conduct background research, and she helped me to develop skills for quantitative and data analysis. Dr. Crago encouraged me explore renewable energy topics and policies that I had never studied and initiate independent research under her mentorship. From helping me to fine-tune my research questions to improving my analytical methods, Dr. Crago helped me develop not only the skills I needed to conduct research but also how to think like a researcher.
What do you find most exciting about conducting research?
I find research exciting in that you never know what the data will tell you until the analysis is complete. Behind every data set, there is a multifaceted story about people, the planet, technology, and legislation. Uncovering these stories is a necessity if society is to write better ones for future generations.
The research I have conducted at UMass has allowed me to maximize my educational experiences and fine-tune the skills I will need to channel my passions into an impactful career.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of being selected for an environmental policy internship with the Office of Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge for the fall 2022 semester. It is an amazing opportunity to apply everything I have learned in the classroom and through my research to real-world environmental legislation.
How has your research enhanced your overall educational experience at UMass?
The research I have conducted at UMass has allowed me to maximize my educational experiences and fine-tune the skills I will need to channel my passions into an impactful career. I am intrigued by the numerous angles from which sustainability can be addressed—an intricate web of environmental, economic, social justice, and public policy factors. Working on different renewable energy projects has given me unique insight into each of these elements and inspired me to pursue them further on campus and in the classroom.
On campus I worked as a coordinator with MASSPIRG students on an advocacy and outreach campaign for 100 percent renewable energy on the UMass Amherst campus and in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As a member of the Dean’s Student Advisory Council for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, my knowledge of environmental policy issues gave me a unique perspective on campus sustainability to share with council members.
I have been inspired by my research to select courses that further enhance my knowledge of environmental, economic, and renewable energy policies. Some of my favorite classes have been Clean Energy and Climate Policy in Massachusetts, Cost Benefit Analysis, and Restoration Ecology, all of which accentuate the critical importance of well-formed policy to societal well-being.
I am especially grateful for my research experiences this semester as I begin an environmental policy internship with the Office of Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge. My understanding of environmental programs and economic programs, and renewable energy technologies, and my data analysis and academic writing skills will position me well in my role to help create a more sustainable Massachusetts.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a passion for the intricate and multidimensional nature of public policy formation. Following graduation, I plan to pursue a career developing environmental and clean energy policy, and eventually pursue a graduate degree in public policy.
Why would you recommend UMass to a friend?
I recommend UMass to everyone. The faculty here are unparalleled and the UMass Amherst community has enabled me to learn and grow both academically and professionally. There truly is an opportunity here for everyone to transform their interests into impacts.