PGE Alumni Profile
Melissa Chanthalangsy, AB '14
What was your involvement with the University of Chicago’s Program on the Global Environment (PGE)?
As an undergrad, I double-majored in Political Science and Environmental Studies. I became heavily involved with UChicago’s PGE when I took on a leadership role as the student coordinator for the Environment, Agriculture, and Food (EAF) Working Group during its infancy. I worked closely with Dr. Sabina Shaikh to help develop and organize student-led working groups, focusing on topics like sustainability-related best practices in Chicago restaurants and stormwater management. I also helped promote a PGE speaker series called “Global Energies,” which focused on climate change-related work featuring experts in agricultural economics, environmental justice, energy policy, and water conservation. This led me to take an EAF-based research practicum taught by Dr. Shaikh, where I researched local food procurement processes and had the unique opportunity to tour a Chicago-based food distribution facility.
What have you done since graduating from the University of Chicago?
After graduating in 2014, I joined the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of International Affairs in Washington DC through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) DOE Scholars Program. At the US DOE, I advised senior leadership on communication strategies to promote US interests at international meetings and conferences in China and Southeast Asia. I also helped manage US relations with foreign energy ministries in China, Japan, Laos, and Malaysia.
Where are you now, and what are you doing?
After completing the DOE Scholars Program, I transitioned to working at the local government level at the City of Rochester NY Office of Energy and Sustainability as a project manager. I have overseen fourteen concurrent energy efficiency projects that have saved the City over $300,000 on utility costs per year while reducing municipal greenhouse gas emissions annually. I manage the installation of electric vehicle charging stations to transform the city’s infrastructure to accommodate the increased adoption of electric vehicles. I also work with federal, state, and local partners to explore opportunities for increased renewable energy adoption, specifically surrounding solar energy. Through these efforts, the City has transformed a former landfill into a 2-megawatt solar field, which is both cost-effective and further promotes sources of renewable energy. I have also secured and managed over $1 million worth of grants to fund and develop research and technical analyses that will help inform future urban planning efforts surrounding sustainability and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
What else do you want people to know?
I encourage students keep an open mind when looking for internships and post-graduate opportunities. UChicago’s PGE will open your eyes to industries and opportunities that are not commonly presented elsewhere in the university. It is tempting to follow the masses, but stay true to your interests, be intentional with your time, and take full advantage of the resources and network at your fingertips.