Best Nerds Studio, the UIC SISE Podcast, Launches After Six Years

On Sunday, I had the opportunity and privilege to co-host the inaugural podcast of the Summer Institute on Sustainability and Energy, an annual program of the University of Illinois at Chicago. I did the program in 2014, and we’ve been talking about podcasting ever since. Ian Munroe and Kunal Sahasrabuddhe were the progenitors of the podcast idea specifically, which first came up at the SISE commencement event at Chicago’s Navy Pier. These two– now in Pittsburgh and Texas, respectively-  pushed the crew to bring it together, while Thomas Aláan, the SISE program organizer, spearheaded the technical side of it.

Listen below!

Toute le gang. Thomas Alaan (upper left), Ian Munroe (top center), Maram Falk (top right), Kunal Sahasrabuddhe (center left), Kelsey Zlevor (center), yours truly (center right), George Crabtree (bottom left), and Lynn Trahey (bottom right).
What Is SISE?

SISE at UIC, the University of Illinois Chicago, is a program that was developed to provide early and mid-career professionals with a broad portrait of the conversation around sustainability, energy, science, planning, and engineering. George Crabtree, a renowned physicist with Argonne National Lab‘s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR, pronounced “J-Caesar”), organized the program with the assistance of Thomas Aláan (who is notably not a scientist or an engineer but rather an enthusiast of science, sustainability, and engineering, and has his own career as an acclaimed countertenor) circa a decade ago and they’ve been rocking it ever since. Lynn Trahey is a materials scientist with JCESR whose challenging role of coordinating research is to, in her words, “make sure the right hand knows what the left hand is capable of.”

The program, which features a diverse cohort from around the world, brings together several dozen people for a few weeks every summer to hang out in Chicago– to talk, collaborate, learn, study, and invent. Lecture sessions focus on intensive instruction combined with highly engaged questions-and-answer. One could go from learning about the power grid and how a synchronous condenser works (I mean, sounds made up to me) to talking about urban farming on Chicago’s South Side. Students were broken up into groups and were tasked with designing a project, product, or service around sustainability or energy, and presenting it to a panel of judges.

Where Are They Now?

SISE at UIC counts among its alumni professionals working at the cutting edge of science, technology, and sustainability, working with companies like Amazon, Rocky Mountain Institute, NYSERDA, and more. To name a few in my cohort alone, Will Drier currently works in policy with the Electrification Coalition. Kelsey Zlevor (featured here) is a planner with Cameron McCarthy. Robert Matthew Ireland got a doctorate and now directs material science research for a cannabis and hemp producer in California. Bry Osmonson is a transportation planner in Seattle with KPG. Brook Abegaz teaches at Loyola University Chicago. Virginia Whorley is an alumna of the AFSCME and is getting a law degree. Junli Li is a consultant with ICF. Kelly Osterman is about to finish her dissertation in mechanical engineering from the University of South Florida. Ignacio Bañarez Sanchez is getting a doctorate from the London School of Economics. Charles Oladimeji is with Texas Instruments. And so many more!

And me, well, I live in Detroit and I write a blog!

Check out SISE at UIC and stay tuned for more content!

Anyone can apply to SISE at UIC! And you should.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner, journalist, and social entrepreneur based in the border town of Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset.

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