By Ann Nordby
Alexa Carrera is determined to move the needle on energy justice. So far, renewable energy technologies have benefited high-income folks the most, in the form of pricey electric vehicles and rooftop solar panels for homeowners. Low-income households still pay the biggest share of their income for energy. Carrera wants to help write energy policies that ensure everyone benefits.
"There's a huge lack of diversity when it comes to who is in positions of power, and what goes into laws. I and other people of color have different perspectives. I hope to be an advocate for energy justice," she said.
As a child, Carrera moved between the United States and Guatemala several times. She discovered twin passions for biology and advocacy while attending Augsburg University in Minneapolis, and pushed the school to switch to solar panels for its electricity.
She took college courses during high school and earned her bachelor's degree in biology in three years. She opted not to go straight into the working world. "I decided that I'm not done learning," Carrera said.
In her undergrad years, she said, "I got really interested in science and policy. I learned that you can't make much difference with technology unless you affect policy."
Carrera looked for a graduate program that would foster her twin passions and found it close by at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She applied for early admission to the Master of Science in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (MS–STEP) program. Not only was she admitted, she also received a DOVE scholarship, which covers her tuition costs and gives her a stipend while in school.
Gaining skills, getting support
In her first year at the Humphrey School, Carrera is gaining the skills she will need to influence energy policy. Although she describes herself as a "shy person," professors and fellow students made her feel welcome and valued.
In class, she's gaining communications and critical thinking skills. Discussion-based classes foster confidence for public speaking. She’s learning to debate—arguing both sides of an issue. She is writing policy memos—persuasive documents that brief decision-makers on issues, such as whether to allow a power company to raise its rates.
Carrera has a second-year "buddy" who helps her with nuts-and-bolts questions about classes and campus. Her alumni mentor Aaron Hanson (MS–STEP ‘17), at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, contacts her regularly with opportunities for learning and networking on and off campus.
Carrera is excited about taking classes such as Tribal Energy Transitions, which will include field visits to Tribal nations in Minnesota to study how they use energy. She's especially looking forward to doing research in energy policy, possibly with her advisor, Associate Professor Gabriel Chan.
"Gabe is one of the few people in the country who does research on rural energy co-ops. I really admire and would like to work with him," she said.
In her first semester, Carrera got an internship at Grid Catalyst, a local technology incubator. There, she is helping to organize funding competitions for energy start-ups. She's also networking with people in the energy policy world.
"I really want to make a difference in this world, and this program is helping me discover how to do that," she said. "This is what I'm supposed to be doing right now."