Kleinman Center Supports On-the-ground Learning for Seven Penn Students

Beth Murray’s not your typical intern.

A mother to four grown children, she is working toward her master’s in environmental studies at the University of Pennsylvania and teaches part-time at Penn’s Wharton School. This summer, she’s also participating in a nine-week internship at the United States Green Building Council in Washington, D.C., funded by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy in Penn’s School of Design.

“Everybody else was doing an internship,” Murray said. “This sounded like exactly what I’m interested in.” With a little push from Cornelia Colijn, deputy director of the Kleinman Center, Murray jumped in.

She is one of seven Kleinman-sponsored students working for organizations from the U.S. Department of Energy to the State Department and the City of Philadelphia’s Energy Office. This is the second summer Kleinman has backed similar opportunities for Penn students, to the tune of about $100,000, and, according to Colijn, the coming years will bring new placements, helped by partnerships with the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative and Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services Division.

“I never want a lack of funding to be the reason a Penn student doesn’t take a fantastic internship,” Colijn said.

This year’s participants each bring a unique perspective to the individual positions. At USGBC, Murray will analyze the impact of building-performance benchmarking being adopted by cities across the U.S. She also said she hopes to spend time looking at what drives such policies to determine whether cities with them also have a greater concentration of LEED-certified buildings.

“Fifteen cities have passed benchmarking ordinances so far,” Murray said. “I’m trying to figure out whether LEED-certified apartment buildings in those places perform significantly better than their non-certified peers.”

Murray’s passion is to understand what’s going on in cities, especially around energy. Ricardo Peña, a student in Penn’s Master of Public Administration program at the Fels Institute of Government, is also emotional about the environment, but he comes at it from a different angle than Murray, with a focus on electric and autonomous vehicles.

During a stint with the Department of Energy this summer, co-funded by PWPPI, Peña will work on National Drive Electric Week, seven days dedicated to getting the word out about electric vehicles. Specifically, he’s reaching out to DOE Clean Cities coordinators, who work on strategies to change behaviors and dependence on petroleum. Peña will also co-author a paper detailing the link between electric and autonomous vehicles and analyze educational ads about electric vehicles the DOE plans to distribute.

“What I’m going to do is help determine, Are we reaching a broad demographic of Americans?” he said. “Who is being reached and who is responding to these ads?”

Peña said these cars are the future. “If you think about the way we’re driving now, it just seems so archaic,” he said. These electric vehicles “are what we need to work toward since they are the next logical step toward autonomy. Why aren’t we putting more money into this? It’s safer. It’s more energy-efficient. It’s more environmentally friendly. Moving to electricity just makes sense.”

Such impassioned voices inspire Colijn and help the Kleinman Center move toward its goal of assisting Penn students inside the classroom and out, a request that came as part of the original $10 million gift from alumnus Scott Kleinman and his wife, Wendy, in 2014.

At Kleinman “we’re really thinking about ways to enhance the student experience,” Colijn said, “to make sure students are leaving Penn not only well-educated in the classroom but also getting a breadth of knowledge and experience so they are positioned to have an immediate impact when they leave.”  

For students like Murray and Peña, one beginning a second career, the other honing in on what he wants to do, this in-the-weeds experience exposes them to different worlds within the larger energy-policy landscape.

This summer’s other Kleinman-funded interns are Gleeson Ryan at the Inter-American Dialogue Program and Sarah Hinstorff working with the U.S. Secretary of State on the Greening Initiative, both co-funded by PWPPI; Oumourumana Jalloh at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service; Jack Huemmler at the Philadelphia Energy Authority; and Adithya Seshadri Suresh in Philadelphia’s Energy Office, co-funded by FRES.

Beth Murray and Rico Pena