Transforming energy policy through a passion for sustainability
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.
Going into college, Sukhmani Singh was passionate about saving the Earth, although she wasn’t planning on studying sustainability. Her main focus was politics. But all that changed when she joined ASU’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG).
“I joined as an intern my freshman year and was placed with the director of sustainability,” said Singh. “He was working on a club composting project, which encouraged different student organizations on campus to compost in exchange for extra funding. I absolutely loved everything he was doing. There's so much food waste at the end of events, it makes sense to compost and help the planet.”
The following semester, Singh became USG’s director of sustainability. She continued the composting program and also worked with student groups to make events zero-waste. She wanted to show as many students as possible that they have a part in sustainability.
“It doesn’t have to be this drastic change that requires a lot of sacrifices; it’s just being a little bit more conscious. Promoting sustainability on campus was such an amazing experience. I knew that I didn't just want to do general politics anymore; I knew that my main focus was going to be environmental policy.”
Singh was able to combine her interests in government and sustainability at the School of Sustainability in the College of Global Futures, earning a Bachelor of Arts in sustainability with a track in policy and governance in sustainable systems. She chose that track because she was still dedicated to public policy and politics, and it coincided with the Bachelor of Arts in political science she was earning from the School of Politics and Global Studies. During one of her policy electives, Singh discovered an interest in energy policy. She wanted to study renewable energy and ways to transform the energy grid.
“If we're going to solve global climate change, then we have to start with where we get our energy from. We can't keep burning fossil fuels and relying on fracking natural gas.”
What she’s learned about energy policy in the classroom has strengthened her work in her internship with Solar United Neighbors, helping groups of people go solar and working closely with legislators and corporation commission members to advocate good solar policy in Arizona. After graduation, Singh wants to continue studying energy policy and attend law school. As part of Barrett, The Honors College, she participated in Project Excellence and took an energy law and policy course at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.
“Energy policy is complicated. I don't think you can make good energy policies without having a good understanding of the law that goes alongside it.”
Singh is grateful to the School of Sustainability for helping her find her path.
“I’ve loved everything about my college career. My sustainability professors were always willing to help and were so passionate about the field that it made it easy to learn. Everyone wants you to succeed because if we succeed, the planet succeeds. That’s the sentiment within the School of Sustainability.”
Question: Why did you choose ASU?
Answer: Originally, I wasn’t planning on going to ASU. My goal was to go somewhere in Washington, D.C. I got into George Washington University, but financially it made more sense to stay in Arizona and go to a local university. I thought I was losing an opportunity by not studying politics in Washington, but I’m so glad that I chose to go to ASU. I really believe that if I didn't go to ASU, I wouldn't have ended up studying sustainability. And that's completely changed my career path.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: The Policy and Governance in Sustainable Systems class transformed how I think about policymaking in the U.S., especially in regards to environmental policy. I also took an energy policy class before I even declared my sustainability major. That class solidified that this is what I really wanted to do. It made me committed to understanding more about our energy systems, something that I didn't even think about before. Studying energy policy at ASU set me on my path. I fell in love with it.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Senior Lecturer Milan Shrestha. He is my current thesis director and also taught the Policy and Governance in Sustainable Systems. His class was incredibly impactful to me, not only because he was so passionate about the subject matter, but he presented it in a way that made it accessible to everyone. His goal was to prove that policy matters, no matter what you're doing, and I appreciated that.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Try to learn something new every day. Sometimes our goal is just to memorize the material and pass the class, and I think that's unfortunate. I don't think I would have been as happy or successful if that had been my only goal. I wanted to succeed in the field and make connections with professors and other students. That has been the most impactful part, not just what grade I got in a class.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would work to make sure every single house in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas had solar panels.