The Sky is GREEN: How Capstone Projects Take Students to New Heights


Apr 26, 2017

Best described by our Alumna, Emilie G., a current graduate student at Colorado School of Mines, “[The GREEN Program] Capstone Project is an interdisciplinary assignment that serves as a culminating academic experience. Capstone Projects typically involve developing a solution to a real world problem. Because these projects are interdisciplinary, students are encouraged to apply skills and investigate issues across many different subject fields. Capstone Projects teach students to think critically, problem-solve, and develop skills such as public speaking, teamwork, planning, self-sufficiency, and marketing.  These skills will prepare students for modern careers in any field of study, and in fact, many corporations ask their employees to complete Capstone Projects in training in order to build these skill sets.” 

Whether these Capstone Projects often serve as hot topics of conversation in job interviews, a new academic experience students have never had before, or act as launch pads for students to initiate their own entreprenurial career, one outcome remains the same: Capstone Projects are helping students ignite their passion and setting them a part from their peers.

To get the inside scoop about these TGP experiences and beyond, we sat down with a few of our Alumni to learn more.

cj27nt1ej06dcmni5dm04fzqr jessica1

Meet: Jessica Rivas 
The GREEN Program: Costa Rica (2011)

Passionate about staying in touch her family’s roots in El Salvadora & Central America, she has always had a passion for working in Latin America. Combined with her love for wind energy & technologies, which she later learned she would be able to see up close and personal during her time abroad with TGP, she was sold on attending.

 Capstone Project Focus: Education
She focused her Capstone Project on providing an educational handbook on energy efficiency for those who did not have access to or knowledge on topics related to renewable energy topics and technologies. 

Meet: Ryan Ramsey
The GREEN Program (2011 – present): Costa Rica, Iceland

Frustrated with his college’s focus on the oil & gas industry during his time at university, Ryan was drawn to how the program in Costa Rica “focused on teaching students about renewable energy technology with hands-on experiences.” Instinctively, he jumped at the opportunity and sent in an application the same day.

Capstone Project Focus: Biodigesters
Ryan’s first project was focused on building biodigestors on dairy farms in Costa Rica that would produce methane for generators to create power for cooking.

cj27ob69r06epmni5ebhxzp3v ryan1
cj27okt7c06gtlyi5tgx9kz06 haydon1

Meet: Haydon Strable
The GREEN Program: Iceland (2015)

The youngest alumni out of the three, Haydon, received an email from an engineering department forwarded with the subject line, “This is The GREEN Program.” After looking into TGP more, Haydon was sold on the GREEN Program educational model and attended GREEN’s Iceland program in 2015. At the time, Haydon was a BioMedical Engineering student, so she knew that TGP’s focus and mission for sustainability was something that she was interested in and passionate about, too.

Capstone Project Focus: Off-Grid Environments
On her program, she created a timeline with her group of the engineering, funding, and structural logistics of “a portable solar panel for off-the-grid environments and cleanities” that they called “Mini-Grid.” 

She’ll be the judge of that!

Meet Caitlin Graaf: Marketing & Communications Manager, Imagine Scholar

cj27pzg6206jdmni5xblg74kt caitling1

After GREEN students are finished conceptualizing their Capstone Projects, they present it to a panel of experts to ensure that they can articulate their idea in a compelling manner. Caitlin Graaf, one of the expert judges we brought onto the program, has a background in sustainable tourism and works for Imagine Scholar.

Imagine Scholar is a program that shares similarities with GREEN in the way they approach youth development. “Every year, our program identifies 10 of the brightest and most ambitious high school students from our area – the rural Nkomazi region of South Africa,” Caitlin says. “Our students work with mentors from around the world, they initiate numerous community-action projects each year, and they found their own micro-enterprises.”

Graaf has worked with “numerous key players in the youth travel field,” but, “I feel confident in saying TGP looks at educational & experiential travel through a different lens.”

TGP students and professionals, unite!
TGP equips students with “an immersive experience that supports creativity AND practicality – two key characteristics of sustainability professionals in the workforce.”

Haydon, our 2015 Iceland Alumna, still has big dreams to make her mini-grid solar panels a reality. In fact, Haydon has been getting advice from one of the panel members who attented TGP’s Professionals Program during her Iceland GREEN program, Caitlin Graaf, on how to prepare the project’s proposal as well as how to fund it. “I have all of the dynamics out and the dimensions. I just need to work with my department chair at my school,” she says.

Graaf was able to provide Haydon “a physical space to prototype her concept,” and she has “been a point of contact for Haydon as she develops her idea and fleshes out her formal proposal.”

Because of this, Caitlin says, “Haydon brings a sophisticated knowledge of clean energy engineering (bolstered by her time on TGP!) to the table, making her an asset to Imagine Scholar’s solar program as well. I’ve been continually impressed by her ability to conceptualize her project from start to finish.”

“The biggest differentiating factor that I see with TGP alumni compared to similar programs in the field, is an ability to adeptly conceptualize barriers and facilitate thorough thought processes but still continue to forge ahead with actionable solutions. The program addresses the integrated nature of sustainable development and encourages students to bare this in mind as they move forward with their careers, startups, projects, and so forth.”

Going Beyond The GREEN Program 

After her GREEN program in 2011, Jessica and her group members strayed from the main focus of their original Capstone Project idea, only to be excited about taking on a new focus: her own business. Jessica retained the core of her project to educate people on sustainability in order to bring awareness and concern to the topic. In 2012, she volunteered for WindAid, returning back in 2013 where she helped break the Guinness World Record for the highest altitude wind turbine in the world. Eventually, she co-founded WindAid Institute. 

“What I ended up doing was cofounding a not-for-profit organization in Peru that focuses on education – but not only on the communities that we’re helping, but also the volunteers that come from around the world as well. So I’m running something similar to The GREEN Program but it’s very different because we’re more focused on providing electricity to the communities and empowering them to live sustainably with an educational element, too.”

Similarly determined, Ryan attempted to push his biodigestor idea for his senior design project. Part of this project included building a lab scale unit in the senior lab to run tests on manure from local Dairy Farms. Although his project topic didn’t move forward by the Senior Design Committee, Ryan says “because of my Capstone Project and experience on The GREEN Program, I got an internship with a local start-up called PK Clean that was working on turning plastic waste into oil.”

Tell us about your inspiration to continue pursuing your Capstone Project beyond The GREEN Program 

Though Jessica knew she wanted to pursue wind turbines and work in Latin America, she says that The GREEN Program helped her determine what she wanted to focus on outside of university: renewables and education. 

“What I noticed was that I didn’t have to be in corporate America to actually do what is most satisfying to me! And then also, being able to see and meet people like Melissa and Brady and seeing that they were all so young and excited about the work that we’re doing that I was just kind of convinced that maybe that could be me as well.”

The GREEN Program, “reignited [his] passion for learning about renewable energy technology,” says Ryan.
The progam, “reminded me of why I went into engineering in the first place, and kickstarted my career in sustainable engineering.” On each of his programs with GREEN, Ryan’s desire to be a part of the sustainable energy revolution was increased with the “world-wide network of friends and like-minded individuals to help me achieve my goals.”

Education Abroad. Redefined. Reinvented… comes to life!
“The GREEN program made me officially decide that I wanted to switch my major and do renewable energy and sustainability,” says Haydon. “Now, I’m an environmental engineer major and civil engineer major.” 


The importance of industry exposure is unparalleled 

“Based on my experiences, I was with classmates that had never experienced any of those,” Jessica replied. She believes that there is immeasurable importance for students to have access to international edcuation opportunities and industry exposure because, “it completely changes your outlook on life and it definitely makes you get out of your comfort zone… we need to feel connected to one another and help one another to ensure that sustainability happens.

What’s your biggest take-away from your Capstone experience with GREEN? 

“Students should do their Capstone Project on something that they are passionate about,” Ryan says. “If you are unsure about what that is, they should choose something that they were always fascinated by, or a subject they want to delve more into… Even if it would just change the life of one individual, to that one person it could mean the world to them.”

Getting such close help from GREEN to finalize her project, Haydon says that students should take advantage of the connections that you are going to make on the program because, “They want to help you do what you want to do. So just find something in your Capstone Project when you’re working on it that you enjoy or something that you really feel passionate about and they really will help you try and make it happen.

Entirely open-ended and with the only limit being the students’ imagination, Capstone Projects take up all sorts of ideas and create diverse solutions to the world’s problems. What’s important about the Capstone Project is that students are able to demonstrate their ability to be self-sufficient as they develop skills such as oral communication, research, planning, teamwork, marketing, and more. From here, the possibilties are endless, and that is one of the most exciting pieces of our students’ experiences: where will their passions take them? We’ll have to wait and see!

Text & Interviews by:
Cindy Ngo

Read Another Article

Honoring Kate Slattery & Highlighting the Shine On Scholarship for Women’s History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month, The GREEN Program is happy to highlight Kate Slattery – a mechanical engineer and photovoltaic designer for SolarCity who challenged herself and others to work toward a global mission of renewable energy and sustainability. We are honored to work with Kate’s family and GivePower to share Kate’s story and provide the Shine On Scholarship to TGP students in memory of Kate. 

read more

How an Online Sustainability Program Helped Jaedyn Medrano Become an Intersectional Sustainability Advocate

This blog features the virtual Nepal Ethics of Sustainable Development Alum, Jaedyn Medrano who says, “this program taught me how to think about a project holistically, and it has guided me along the path to being a better cultured and inclusive young professional.” She is set to graduate with a double major in Renewable Natural Resources & Ecological Restorations in December of 2022.

read more

Defending Reproductive Rights in the Battle for Climate Justice

Reproductive Justice is Climate Justice. The GREEN Program stands to defend the reproductive rights of all women and people who give birth to access safe reproductive health care. We must do more to educate others and understand the interconnection between Reproductive Justice and the Climate Crisis. It’s important to draw the connections between climate change, pollution, and reproductive rights.

read more

An International Graduate Student Embraces Nepali Culture by Studying Abroad through Shine On Scholarship

On one hand, I believe that every student should be given a chance to study abroad at least once in their life, because it teaches us things that textbooks cannot: adaptability, resilience, curiosity, empathy, just to name a few. Whether good or bad, bursting our bubble and learning about our world will inspire us and open our minds. On the other hand, the people we interact with benefit from the diversity, because all of us bring unique perspectives to the table. Perhaps we share an idea that no one has thought of but could be key to solving a problem; we fuel the aspirations of someone who is facing similar difficulties; or help take down stereotypes.  

read more

Remembering Juneteenth and the Fight for Environmental Justice

n June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. It is on this day every year since that we celebrate “Juneteenth” as the end of slavery in the United States. It is a day that we celebrate ancestors and leaders who fought to be liberated. We celebrate their power, resiliency, and tenacity. 

read more

LGBTQ+ Leaders and Organizations in Sustainability to Know About this Pride Month

The GREEN Program loves to celebrate love, and there is no better way to do that this month than by recognizing a few LGBTQ+ leaders and organizations that are making a difference not just in their own communities but for our planet altogether. Read below to learn more about some people and spaces that are working together to promote a better world that focuses on inclusion and equality.

read more

Meet 8 AAPI Leaders in Sustainability: Across the Globe and At Home

The month of May is known to many as the end of classes and the start of Summer, but May is also known as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Our team at TGP wanted to take a moment to recognize the contributions and influence of AAPI Americans throughout history, culture, and achievements both on a global scale, and from those who are a bit close to home. We also encourage you to learn more about AAPI Heritage Month and get involved through additional resources.

read more

From a Start Up to a Sustainability Study Abroad Program: How Patrick Applied his Passion for Renewable Energy in Iceland

When Fall 2021 rolled around and I saw the TGP scholarship opportunity, I thought I’d apply not expecting much. When I found out that I actually got it, I was like “I guess I’m actually doing this!”. I was a little nervous and anxious but also so excited for the opportunity! I was also grateful that the enrollment process was very smooth for me with no significant challenges along the way.

read more

Boston University Student Gains a Unique Perspective for Renewable Energy & Sustainability by Studying Abroad in Iceland

Global experiences have definitely shaped me into the person I am today through increased cultural awareness and sensitivity. Getting to really know a great group of diverse individuals from all over the world has not only shaped my perspective on current world issues, but has also allowed me to take a glance at certain topics from another angle and point of view.

read more

A Construction Science Major Turns Lessons into Opportunity after a Sustainability Study Abroad Program 

AJ Ewing spent his past Winter Break a little bit differently than most students, by studying abroad on our GREEN Nepal program. As a Construction Science major, AJ notes that he was nervous coming into the study abroad program having no prior experience in sustainability or electrical/solar grids, but he was excited and eager to learn. As soon as he arrived, all his nerves were gone as he was welcomed by our team and ready to dive in. Now, he can honestly say that when he thinks of The GREEN Program, he thinks of “family away from home.”

read more

How a Geologist Made His Sustainability Dream in Iceland a Reality through a Study Abroad Scholarship

As someone who is in a field with a limited representation of ethnic minorities, TGP created a neutral ground where there was a range of diversity on different levels. My GREEN Program experience in Iceland wasn’t just about the adventures and cultural immersion, but about the education too. I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures because I saw how passionate the different lecturers were about their work and research which is truly inspiring. As a geologist, learning more about the wonder that is Iceland in Iceland was definitely a dream come true.

read more

Get to Know GREENie: Maryam Aida Tidjani

Maryam Aida Tidjani got to experience a brand new kind of GREEN Program during the hard times the world was facing, a 100% Virtual and Online experience. Initially planning on traveling to Peru in 2021, the global pandemic continued to shift things around and we had to pivot all travel programs to Online experiences.

read more

Subscribe to The GREEN Program newsletter & updates

Skip to content