Thursday, February 8, 2018

“Life-Changing” Internship Leads to a Rewarding Career in Indian Energy

Photo of Dr. Tommy Jones and attendees at a workshop in Alaska 

DOE contractor Dr. Tommy Jones speaking with Councilwoman Faye Ewan at the January 2017 Alaska Regional Energy Workshop led by the DOE Office of Indian Energy and hosted by Gulkana Village in the Ahtna region of Alaska.
Photo from Karen Petersen, NREL

My name is Dr. Tommy Jones. I am from Jones, Oklahoma, and I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Naknek Village Council, and a Native shareholder of Bristol Bay Native Corporation. In 2014, I first applied to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Indian Energy student internship located at Sandia National Laboratories. The transformative experience solidified my desire to work in this field and to contribute to the fast-growing industry of energy development in Indian Country.

During my time as an intern (see my previous blog), my colleague Dr. Len Necefer and I collaborated on a research paper titled Identifying Barriers and Pathways for Success for Renewable Energy Development on American Indian Lands. The goal of the research was to hear from tribal, federal, private, and academic experts who are specifically working in tribal energy. The work was meant to help identify the barriers of bringing the significant renewable energy potential that exists in Indian Country to market for the benefit of tribal communities. Hearing from those who not only work directly on energy issues but rely firsthand on the dependability of energy systems far exceeded my expectations. This type of internship, where students have the opportunity to engage directly with leaders in their field, is exceptional. We weren’t sitting in an office making assumptions about communities across the nation; we were visiting these communities and hearing their stories. The stories we heard about these communities’ struggles, and more importantly their perseverance to meet their energy needs and promote economic development, was life changing. No longer are you simply a student or a researcher. Now, you are involved in the process to help Native Americans meet their energy visions, which benefits those communities, enhances your personal growth, and contributes to the energy independence of the United States of America.

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