Rutgers Magazine: Seeing Green

While at Rutgers, Melissa Lee cofounded an experiential-learning company that introduced students to companies following best practices for sustainability. Five years later, the GREEN Program thrives. 

Apple was started in a garage. eBay was founded in a spare bedroom. And the GREEN Program grew up in the dorms of Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s College Avenue Campus. The groundbreaking study-abroad company began in 2009 when Melissa Lee and Mikhail Naumov, founders of the Rutgers Entrepreneurial Society, were exploring bright ideas for creating their own companies.

“We backpacked around Costa Rica that summer,” says Lee SC&I’11. “We discovered that we could gain access to privately and publicly owned renewable energy power plants—which is almost impossible in the United States. We thought we could build a program to provide real-time industry experience in the world’s leading clean- energy and sustainability initiatives to university students in the STEM fields.”

It turns out that their instincts were correct. Today, the award-winning Philadelphia-based company runs six short-term immersion programs in the United States, Iceland, and Peru that Lee calls “epicenters of renewable energy and sustainability.” It works with more than 200 universities in 45 nations, including Rutgers, which offers academic credit and funding opportunities to participants. 

Naumov RBS’11 left the GREEN Program in 2014 to start an artificial intelligence company, but Lee is still involved as CEO. Her global staff of 20 includes Rutgers and the GREEN Program alumni T. Brady Halligan SEBS’12 and Alex Tanenbaum SC&I’12.

“Over 1,200 students have participated, and 98 percent say it has helped them in their professional endeavors,” says Lee, who presented at the 2014 Forbes Under 30 Summit. Lee, a first- generation American whose family has a history of entrepreneurship, is excited about improving the program by working with universities to reframe curricula. “The student demands have shifted  within study abroad and education,” she says. “We’re shaking up higher-education standards.”

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