Matthew Pearlson ’07 has been aware of global warming and the search for alternative energy sources since his grandmother in Florida started sending him newspaper clippings on those topics during his teenage years. She opened his eyes to the issues and challenged him to look at ways of solving them. Pearlson’s high school teachers and counselors took notice of his interest and encouraged him to see that engineering was a way to combine his creativity and problem-solving skills with analytical methods to build things that make a difference in the world. Today, Matthew is doing just that with Citizens Energy Corporation.
Pearlson studied chemical engineering at UMass, and applied to Commonwealth Honors College after a few semesters on campus. “I’m glad I applied.” says Pearlson. He adds, “Doing the engineering curriculum is pretty tough by itself so it was nice to have some honors electives to round out the experience and exercise a different part of my brain.” In addition to joining Commonwealth Honors College, Pearlson reached out beyond the chemical engineering lab in Goessman and was active in student government, started a fraternity chapter (Pi Kappa Phi), completed an internship with a major petroleum company in New York City, won a national student research competition, and did three summer research projects across the country. “I had a great mix of academic, social, and extracurricular activities that all contributed to my success as an undergraduate.” One of his proudest moments as an undergraduate was being awarded the 21st Century Leadership Award at graduation and sitting on the stage during commencement.
After spending his undergraduate career studying chemical engineering and doing research projects in renewable energy and alternative fuels, Pearlson chose not to attend graduate school immediately and instead moved to Seattle to work for Microsoft. Pearlson learned computer programming on the job and focused his work on energy savings features for the Windows 7 project. Following the completion of Windows 7 he moved back to Boston to attend graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying renewable fuels and investigating the economic and environmental costs of producing renewable jet fuel for the commercial aviation industry, FAA, and the U.S. military. A jet fuel company that Pearlson started based on his graduate research won several business plan competitions, including the MIT Clean Energy Prize and the Boston University School of Management New Venture Competition.
Former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II took notice of Pearlson’s work and hired him to run special projects at Citizens Energy Corporation in Boston. “My role at Citizens Energy is my dream job.” says Pearlson. He evaluates business opportunities, runs special projects, and reports directly to the Chairman/CEO and COO of the company. The thing is he most proud of is a multi-million dollar assistance program he designed, started and now oversees is called the Low Income Solar Homes Program. The program uses proceeds from the Citizens Energy ownership of the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line to provide free solar systems to low-income families in Imperial County, CA. This county has the highest rates of unemployment and the most low-income households anywhere in the country. Imperial County’s desert climate features temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the majority of the year. Since the program started in 2012 the program has provided more than 250 free solar systems to families and households in the Imperial Valley. Systems typically save households 50% of their electric bill. “I like that my job helps make life’s basic necessities more affordable. While it was cool to work on Windows 7 and know that the feature I worked on would save energy on hundreds of millions of computers, I felt pretty far removed from the impact. At Citizens Energy, I get letters from senior citizens on fixed incomes that tell me the Solar Home Program was the difference between them paying their electricity bills or sitting in their house without air conditioning during the summer.” While his job does not involve chemical engineering, he still uses his technical training on a regular basis.
“UMass Amherst and Commonwealth Honors College gave me the opportunity to distinguish myself.” concludes Pearlson. “When I graduated, I had a long list of accomplishments, awards, and experiences that were attractive to employers and graduate schools. It gave me a lot of options which I was very grateful to have. The honors college is a good chance to differentiate yourself, enhance your credentials, and network with some of the best and brightest students that the University can attract.”