UC Merced Students Headed to Denmark to Study Wind Power

MERCED - Engineering and business students from the University of California, Merced, have found a unique, interdisciplinary opportunity to study the implementation of alternative energy in Denmark through the first-ever LoCal RE Summer School program organized by UC Merced, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, and Roskilde University in Denmark.

Six UC Merced students are participating in the 20-student program. Uday Bali, Heather Poiry, Kevin Balkoski and Rich Inman will represent UC Merced from the School of Engineering. Kevin Rico and Sam Fong are attending as management majors from the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. (UC Merced's School of Management is in the planning stages).

They'll be learning about wind power in Lolland, a community that has become a world leader in developing and implementing wind energy. Next year, Danish students will visit California to learn about solar energy.

Before it implemented alternative energy on a large scale beginning in the late 1980s, Denmark had the second-highest per-capita carbon emissions in the world. The United States, then as now, occupied the top spot.

"We anticipate learning in ways we couldn't begin to learn inside a classroom," Poiry said, "Especially about social adaptation to changes in energy systems. Lifestyle changes are difficult to initiate, and it will be interesting to see how they handle that."

The fact that UC Merced is so well represented in spite of larger candidate pools from other participating institutions speaks to the cohesiveness and achievement brought about by personal mentoring. These UC Merced students have developed close relationships with one of the world's leading energy researchers, Professor Roland Winston, jointly appointed in UC Merced's schools of Natural Sciences and Engineering.

"He really makes room for us, always asking how he can help," said Rico.

All six participants have been involved in Winston's courses and research since they came to UC Merced. Balkoski and Bali transferred in at the opening of the university in 2005; both have now graduated and plan to pursue graduate degrees at UC Merced with Winston as their advisor. The remaining members of the group are still pursuing their bachelor's degrees. All agree that the LocalRE program is a unique opportunity.

"I am extremely proud of this first group of UC Merced energy students," said Roland Winston. "I expect them to become leaders in the new field of renewable energy."

"Because this is the first time this program is happening, we have the chance to help mold a good program," said Bali. "That's what we've prepared for since we came to UC Merced, as we helped start the campus." Bali is the immediate past president of the Associated Students of UC Merced, the campus' student government.

The students have also all participated in service learning projects through the Foster Family Center for Engineering Service Learning - A National Epics Site, a requirement for engineering majors at UC Merced.

"I strongly believe our work in Denmark will help put UC Merced on the map," Poiry said. "That's what we were made for - all the work we have done in research, working with real money in service learning, learning about real projects and money and even the cost of mistakes."

Their experiences also leave them well prepared for entrepreneurship - and the group is already exploring the idea of a startup solar energy company. Using their business and engineering expertise in synchronicity with current global concerns about financial and environmental costs of fossil fuels, they may be poised for immediate success.

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