Commencement 2013: URI student aims for ‘big impact’ with career in sustainability, energy policy

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 23, 2013 – University of Rhode Island senior Christopher Caisse has already worked with the Environmental Protection Agency and four Rhode Island communities on projects designed to reduce energy use. As he prepares to graduate on May 19, he is well positioned to use that experience to launch a career finding solutions to a variety of important energy and environmental issues.

A resident of Barrington, Caisse struggled early in his URI education to identify the right academic major.

“I’m concerned about the effects of climate change and interested in finding solutions that seek to mitigate those kinds of big issues,” he said. “I want to make a big impact. That’s how I found the Environmental and Natural Resource Economics program. It’s interdisciplinary; it explores economic, cultural and social issues; it affects everyone and everything.”

Through his major and a class in energy economics, Caisse delved into issues of sustainability, energy efficiency and renewable energy, which he found fascinating. And that led to his appointment as a URI Energy Fellow, a program that provides undergraduate students with funding to conduct hands-on energy-related research on real-world problems.

With a grant from the EPA’s Climate Showcase Communities program, he was part of a team of students that helped officials in Warwick, North Providence, South Kingstown and East Greenwich assess their municipal energy use and develop ways to use less.

“We benchmarked the energy use in all of their buildings so they could see how much energy they were using, we showed them some projects they could do and gave them a cost benefit analysis of each, and we launched a Go Green website for each community,” Caisse explained. “It was different every day, and I liked that it was something that had never been done before.”

As a result of the recommendations made by Caisse and his team, one community converted its street lights to energy-saving LED lights and another installed geothermal heating and cooling systems in its buildings, among other projects.

“When talking about energy, most people immediately think about installing renewables, but before we even move in that direction we need to first focus on conservation and efficiency,” Caisse said. “Now we’re giving these towns a package so they can sustain their efforts.”

With just weeks to go before he graduates from URI, Caisse is investigating job opportunities in the non-profit sector.

“I like the idea of working with smaller organizations that are laying the groundwork for major change,” he said. “And I like the idea of using grants to do things no one else is doing.”

Caisse, who served on the executive committee of the URI Student Senate and competed on the URI rowing team, may apply to work with AmeriCorps in the coming year, but he is also thinking about more long-term opportunities.

“In 10 years I see myself working to bridge environmental issues and human rights issues,” he said. “I want to find something that’s all encompassing and brings all those issues together.”

Photo submitted by Christopher Caisse