The two are grad students who chose to return to UC Merced after receiving bachelor’s degrees in environmental engineering, emphasizing sustainable energy. Although either one could have pursued advanced degrees at any of an impressive selection of universities, both cited the same reasons for heading back to this campus, chief among them the continuing opportunity to work with Professor Roland Winston.
“I wanted to dive deeper into renewable energy, and at other schools I looked at, they kept telling me Winston was the best professor to have in the field.” said Bali, who graduated in May. “Working with him is a really good experience. Obviously, he is a great professor, but he is also one of the nicest people I have ever met.”
Balkoski, who graduated in 2007, agreed. “It’s incredible to work with him. It is quite amazing to be standing next to the man who basically invented the entire topic. I get to actually sit next to him while I figure out a problem, not just read about it in a book that references him.”
“This program has the highest number of opportunities, so many that there was no reason to leave,” said Bali about returning to UC Merced. “Kevin and I talk about being hand-picked by Professor Winston. We really felt that he was nudging us, grooming us as undergraduates to fill these roles.”
Both embrace the opportunity to be more than “just another master’s student” at UC Merced, said Bali, but the experience has been much more than that.
They work on a variety of Winston’s projects. Balkoski, whose research is mostly centered around testing and modeling, appreciates being able to get his hands on just about every aspect that comes into play.
“He is trying to get me to learn every little corner of the topic, so it has been a lot of fun,” he said of Winston.
Balkoski’s main research topic concerns concentrating solar thermal energy and finding the most efficient and cost-effective way to use it commercially.
“This is something that could change the world,” Balkoski said. “To me, that’s fun. Being able to take energy from the most abundant source we have and do something with it, that’s incredible.”
Bali is particularly excited by the idea of changing the world, and he looks forward to starting close to home. He is working on his master’s in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on renewable energy, and he wants to be part of the team that brings renewable energy as an industry to the Central Valley.
“There are no immediate jobs in the Merced area in renewable energy,” he said. But Bali believes the region is ready for “green” businesses and an industry that could bring jobs to the community. “I can see myself starting a renewable energy business in the Central Valley. I would like to stay in the area.”