Student Energy (British Columbia)

Promoting sustainable energy and empowering young activists

Shakti posed next to a green board at the Climate Forum in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Science Horizons intern, Shakti Ramkumar, at Climate Town Hall, Vancouver, BC. Photo credit: Shakti Ramkumar.

When Shakti Ramkumar graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2019, she applied for several jobs in the green-economy sector. An ECO Canada Science Horizons Youth Internship helped her secure the job she most wanted – as Communications Co-ordinator at the global youth-led charity Student Energy.

Based in Vancouver, Student Energy provides tools for young people to promote sustainable energy. It has more than 40 chapters at post-secondary institutions in Canada and abroad and has hosted several international student energy summits. The group’s chapters involve thousands of students a year through energy projects, educational initiatives and community events.

Ramkumar moved from India to Canada when she was eight years old and has been active in the climate-change movement since elementary school when she began to compete nationally in science fairs. Her projects focused on subjects of energy and resource efficiency, energy conservation, and sustainability.

Initially enrolled in engineering, Ramkumar switched to geography in her third year at UBC. The move gave her a greater understanding of the humanities side of climate change, she says. At UBC she also co-directed Common Energy, a student-led sustainability group.

“I had this hunger to learn more about the history of social movements and how change is made on a global level,” says Ramkumar, now Student Energy’s Director of Communications and Policy.

Funded by governments as well as private and philanthropic organizations, Student Energy’s fellowships, training and mentorship programs have engaged students in 120 countries. More than half of the organization’s funding comes from outside Canada.

Shakti in front of buildings in New York City, USA.

Science Horizons intern, Shakti Ramkumar, in New York City, USA. Photo credit: Shakti Ramkumar.

“We really try to expedite training and skills so young people can learn from the actions of those in the past to make projects happen faster,” says Meredith Adler, Student Energy’s Executive Director. The organization provides coaching and mentorship for youth who approach it with project ideas.

Adler says projects can be tremendously varied. For example, one Student Energy alumnus has a clean-fuels business in Uganda. His staff pick up trash from streets in Kampala and his factory converts it into briquettes used for cooking.

Student Energy also hosts a SevenGen Indigenous Youth Energy Summit Council which promotes sustainable energy within the context of Indigenous cultures.

The organization has grown rapidly. When Ramkumar was hired, Student Energy had four employees based in Vancouver. Now it has 40 employees in six countries, including Nigeria, Peru, Trinidad, and the United Kingdom. Much of this growth was spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic when staff began to work remotely. Leading a team of four communications staff, Ramkumar says “Student Energy always took a global approach, so it made sense that our staff needed to be global too.” Wage subsidies such as those funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada have enabled this expansion.

Many recent graduates are deeply concerned about the climate change crisis and want to dedicate their careers to its solution, Ramkumar says. “We want Student Energy to be their launching pad.”

As an intern, she worked on redesigning the organization’s energy system map which is a free virtual-education tool. Designed by students, the interactive map provides an overview of the world’s energy systems, including sources and end uses of energy. Ramkumar recruited youth writers and peer reviewers and introduced new topics such as climate finance.

She also kicked off an “Energy-101” social media series focussed on energy justice and critical thinking about energy.

“We try to focus on the root causes of problems as well as equitable solutions,” she says. “We want all activists to become empowered with this baseline understanding of energy and climate science.”

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