Nicholas Pahl Energy Management Intern

Power to the students

Energy management internship program pays off for CSE students

When Jerome Malmquist first came to the University of Minnesota as director of energy management in 2000, he was surprised at the department’s lack of a co-op or internship program.

“I was like, ‘You have a gold mine sitting right here!’” Malmquist said, recalling his reaction. 

Thus, the Energy Management internship program was born—built from the ground up. It made its debut with only one student worker. Now, nearly 20 years later, the department has hired its 105th student and currently employs 12, mostly students from the College of Science and Engineering (CSE). And, seven of its current full-time employees got their start as interns.

As the University’s utilities, engineering, and energy efficiency department, Energy Management is responsible for making and distributing chilled water, steam, and electricity across campus. Its engineers ensure the functioning of all campus buildings and also oversee the water, sanitary, and sewer needs. 

Student intern responsibilities range from gathering and entering data into maintenance systems to drawing up designs that the senior engineers rely on for project calculations. According to Malmquist, the students learn many of the skills they need to excel in the real world. 

“When they leave here and go to get a permanent job, they can pretty much hit the ground running,” Malmquist said.

“They understand how to walk up to a CAD [computer-aided design and drafting] machine and do the layouts, how to go through engineering handbooks and pick the right kind of materials, and how to use GIS [geographic information system] and maintenance systems,” he explained. “They’ve seen it, they’ve done it, and they’re prepared.”

Tasks that matter

Although mapping out water and steam tunnels doesn’t sound glamorous to some, it’s more than just menial work for Energy Management intern Abby Diekmann, who spends a lot of her time 70 feet below the University.

“All the work I’ve done has not only made me more knowledgeable about this field, but it’s also made me more knowledgeable with how to approach contractors, how to provide a professional appearance when dealing with other people, and how to talk to people,” she said.

Diekmann, a CSE student majoring in mechanical engineering who just finished her sophomore year, started working in the department last year after her freshman year in CSE. The measurements she takes in the field are crucial to contractors working to improve University infrastructure—and they have actually used one of her drawings in their project proposals. 

“Every project that I’ve worked on here, whether it’s just making an Excel file easier to update or just working on our graphics programs to display the systems a little more nicely, I feel like I'm making a difference,” said Diekmann, who is a recipient of the University's Florence Sinclair and U Promise scholarships. 

Nicholas Pahl and Abby Diekmann
Energy Management interns Abby Diekmann and Nicholas Pahl measuring a steam pipe in the University's tunnel system.

Electrical engineering major and fellow intern Jacob Grunklee, a recipient of the University's Gold Scholar Award and Presidential Scholarship, said the internship allows him to see the bigger picture and better understand the implications of team work. 

“In class you usually start and finish all your projects and assignments by yourself,” he said. “But at work, you often have to build on projects that other people have started, learn their conventions, and maybe hand the task off to someone else before it’s complete.”

Grunklee, who just finished his junior year, has also been working at Energy Management since he was a freshman. His main project was designing a digital system for emergency generator tests so that electricians could record data on their smartphones instead of on paper. Now, the system is fully implemented and makes the data collection process easier and quicker for staff every month.

Although Grunklee doesn’t plan on working in the energy management field after graduation, he said the internship has both given him valuable skills—such as a proficiency in AutoCAD and drafting electrical schematics—and helped him narrow down his career interests. 

“It’s hard to get an internship when you’re a freshman, so I was really excited to have an opportunity,” Grunklee said. “I’ve learned a bunch of industry-standard software, gained project experience, and made a lot of friends. The intern after me will be a very lucky student!”

Saving the planet—and cows

Not only has the University of Minnesota’s Energy Management intern program produced successful students, but it has led students to careers in the department itself. For CSE mechanical engineering alumnus Alex Poor, the internship began merely as a way to get engineering experience. But, it quickly transformed into something more as he realized he wanted to pursue a career in energy production or a related field.

“Energy management stuck out to me as a way to use my interest in energy production on the user end,” Poor said. “In the future if I do move to energy production, it helps to know how the energy is being used to be able to better produce it.”

“And it plays into my hippie card, saving energy and saving the planet and stuff,” he quipped. 

Poor started as an intern in 2012, during his sophomore year, and got hired as a full-time district engineer in the Energy Management at the University of Minnesota in 2015. 

One of his defining moments as an intern came during a ventilation project on a St. Paul dairy barn, whose cows were suffering from bad air circulation in the building. Poor had been under the impression that there wasn’t much to the field of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) other than simply warming and cooling air. 

However, in redesigning the barn to make air flow more efficiently, and thereby increasing cow milk production, Poor realized HVAC was something he wanted to continue working on. 

“As I got more experience with the ventilation portion of it, I realized there was a lot more calculation, a lot more technical expertise required to figure out what a space needs,” Poor said.

“Getting a job [at the University of Minnesota] and actually getting experience in the field,” Poor said, “helped me to transition into this career.”

Now, as a district engineer, Poor gets to seek out projects on his own, bringing him closer and closer to making the University and its surroundings more energy efficient.  

Between graduates and current students, Malmquist said the intern staff is invaluable. He is retiring soon, but he leaves a near 20-year legacy in the Energy Management intern program. 

“They get several really good learning experiences, and they’re making a contribution,” Malmquist said. “They’re very active, very involved, and dedicated. They really earn their keep and return the investment that we make in them.”

Story by Olivia Hultgren

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