Student Post: Cleantech Mentors Abound in San Diego
If you ask most people about the future, they won’t always know what to tell you. As a college student (Go UC San Diego!), I have only a vague sense of what I want to do and where I want to be. If you had asked me six months ago what that was, I would have given you a decidedly unsure answer based on generalized and probably misinformed ideas of what lies outside of the classroom. “Something something, chemical engineering… something something clean technology… something something make the world a better place.”
Today, after spending six months working with Cleantech San Diego, I’ve gotten a much better sense of the kinds of great people, ideas, and projects that are right in my hometown. Although I’m just an intern, I’ve already had the opportunity to learn from a huge variety of business owners, engineers, scientists, city planners, and visionaries. Over the summer I worked to update Cleantech San Diego’s cluster database, and spent hours interviewing people at local businesses making their marks in the clean technology sector. From the hundreds of conversations I had, I learned about the daily trials and triumphs of the people who are out there dedicating their professional lives to making our world a better place to live in.
Ordinary but hardworking people from all walks of life told me their stories; how they competed in a globalized economy, researched the right chemical pathway to induce a perfect reaction, pitched to countless investors, and succeeded or failed at landing in a niche market in San Diego. Just last week I got to meet one of the candidates in San Diego’s mayoral race, Councilman David Alvarez. At the meeting hosted by Cleantech San Diego, I listened in as a group of people representing sectors ranging from transportation to biofuels made their case for what they believe is needed to help keep our city growing strong as a leader in clean technology. Experiences like these have not only helped me put faces behind names and a team behind each project, they also helped me figure out my small piece in the giant puzzle that is our clean technology economy.
On a personal level, I’m able to relate my own growth to what I see in the ambitious people in San Diego’s Cleantech industry. The struggles and successes that people go through are part of a daily evolution with the end goal of getting something good done. Before my internship with CleanTECH San Diego, I only had an abstract idea of what people in the clean technology sector went through. Since then, I have been astounded at the complexity of the challenges and conflicting interests facing us as we try to grow in a sustainable manner. But what’s been more astounding has been the level of dedication and intelligence coming from people who want to make cleantech work. I met many inspiring people like founder and engineer Michael Hurst of Chlorofill who is manufacturing sustainable, non-carcinogenic building materials, and CEO Lisa Mortenson of Community Fuels who is leading one of the largest biofuels company in California. I was mentored by Scott Holmen on how to deal with challenges outside of the professional world, and I met a good friend and fellow engineering student in Sarin Parikh. Starting off the New Year in 2014, I look forward to meeting more local leaders and working with Josh Harman and the rest of the Cleantech San Diego staff. With all these great people tackling the challenges of our industry, how can I help but be optimistic about the future?
Michael is an undergraduate chemical engineering student at UC San Diego and an intern at Cleantech San Diego