Environmental Engineering Graduate Paves the Way for Women in STEM through a Renewable Energy & Sustainability Program in Iceland


Jun 22, 2022

iceladn 5 Maria Milan

Meet Maria Milan

Iceland 2022

TGP Scholarship Recipient

Michigan State University
Major: Environmental Engineering 
Graduation Year: 2022

I am a graduating Master’s student at Michigan State University. When my advisor who I worked with in undergrad invited me to be a graduate research assistant on a project focusing on improving building efficiency in rural communities in Alaska, I finally knew what I wanted to focus on after being unsure for years. I visited the community and became passionate about finding ways to improve building efficiency and energy generation in the circumpolar North. I loved the people I met in the community and wanted to continue working with them and other rural, primarily Indigenous Northern communities as a career. TGP provided an opportunity for me to learn about sustainable energy generation in a sub-Arctic country, something I thought I could apply to my research in the North. I was glad to go on this trip to learn about Iceland’s geothermal and hydrokinetic electricity and heat generation.

I kept checking the enrollment status of my March program because it was during my spring break, but I was waiting for information on the TGP scholarship I had applied for. After I got the scholarship, I enrolled the next day! My challenge was finding the money to pay for the trip, but the scholarship helped with that as well as some fellowships I received from my university directly for performing research. I was so happy to find out that part of my trip would be covered by TGP. I called my parents to tell them, and they were happy too! They knew how much I wanted to visit Iceland and learn about their energy generation processes.

“I met so many strong women on the trip.”

iceland 1 Maria Milan

Global experiences expose students to different cultures. This is so important, as we learn new ways of life and sometimes leave adding some of what we learned into our own lives. Seeing the world from a different perspective than what I am used to was refreshing. I met so many strong women on the trip, and I know we will all go into our chosen fields, (mine being engineering) and add our perspectives and strength to them, growing them to be more inclusive and accepting of new ideas.

I loved learning about the geothermal resources in Iceland and how they were used to both create electricity and heat homes. The way the country has harnessed their resources and used them in their everyday lives is so inspirational to me. I hope that the world will learn from Iceland and look for ways to be more sustainable.

“The way the country has harnessed their resources and used them in their everyday lives is so inspirational to me.”

I had such a positive experience, and my favorite part was the people I met. We were all such a great team, and I really enjoyed sharing my experience with everyone. I will be honest and say the program was different than my expectations. I thought we would be out hiking a lot more, and I thought the geothermal plant tours would be more intensive, looking at the equipment they use, but overall it was still such an amazing experience. What shocked me most was that Iceland didn’t have many trees, and I still think about that sometimes. Overall, I had a wonderful time, and I will cherish the lovely memories I made with the wonderful people I met! Working on the Capstone Project was so special, our project was about building solar-powered homes in an Indigenous community in Hawaii. My team wanted to create a project that would benefit and include community members. Although we changed the course of our project close to when it was due, we ended up with a great presentation and idea. 

“I am (more than) ready to move on from college and meet new people in a new community.”

My biggest takeaway was that I am (more than) ready to move on from college and meet new people in a new community. I loved watching people who were strangers on the first day become close friends after one week. I loved learning about other lives and experiences. Another takeaway was that many sub-Arctic and Arctic areas are different from each other. Some of the building technology I used in my research with Alaska is not or does not have to be used in Iceland, which doesn’t get as cold in the winter. But that doesn’t mean I can’t use what I learned in Iceland in my future career, especially in sustainable energy generation!

Maria’s advice for new GREENies:

For students considering study abroad, I say to apply for scholarships. Just like with jobs, applying can seem daunting or like your work isn’t getting noticed. Keep trying. This is something that I have to encourage myself to do as I apply to full-time jobs. Also talk to your university or place of work if they will help you in any way. Reaching out doesn’t hurt!

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