Alexis worked for the Cooper Center for Economic and Policy Studies, Energy Transition Initiative, creating visualizations for an energy dashboard and simulating ways to supply Virginia's electricity demand with renewables.
“My time as a research assistant at the Weldon Cooper Center has been my favorite experience to date as an undergraduate student at UVA. I learned an immense amount and was able to work with some really brilliant people on a project I was enthusiastic about... "
Energy Transition Initiative Intern
Alexis was a fourth-year undergraduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences, studying Economics and Mathematics when she completed her internship.
Why did you choose to intern with the Cooper Center, Center for Economic and Policy Studies?
During the Fall 2019 semester, I took Economics of Sustainability with Professor Shobe. As an economics major, I really enjoy using models and logic to solve problems. I’d always thought that the problem of climate change and pathways to sustainability seemed too large for me to consider tackling, though I was certainly interested in it. Professor Shobe’s class showed me that sustainability can be achieved and that the pathways to this achievement can be found through economic models. At the end of the course, Professor Shobe was looking for research assistants to work with the Center for Economic & Policy Studies. I jumped at this chance to use what I had learned in the class. I ended up applying to be part of the data research team to study pathways for Virginia to realize a clean economy.
What were some of the projects you worked on during your internship?
While at CEPS, I spent the majority of my time working on creating visualizations for a dashboard requested by the Virginia DMME. The purpose of the dashboard was to track Virginia’s progress towards decarbonizing its electricity sector as mandated by Executive Order 43. I used data collected by teammates that characterized things such as generation, capacity, or emissions in Virginia. I was really excited about this dashboard that the team put together and the data-driven visualizations we included. The team discussed how this dashboard could serve as a form of accountability as Virginia takes further steps towards a clean economy. This dashboard was really a dream come true for me as I was able to explore a developing interest in data science while also working on a project that I felt had great implications.
Another favorite project I worked on while at CEPS involved simulating ways to supply 30% of Virginia’s electricity demand with renewables by 2030. I used generation data to estimate seasonal capacity factors for renewable sources. These estimated capacity factors were then compared with Professor Shobe’s electricity demand forecast in order to approximate how much additional renewable sources Virginia would need in terms of capacity in order to meet this 30% goal. I found the most interesting part of this project to be the consideration of edge cases such as cold days in January where we expect high electricity demand but can’t count on having very much sun to provide electricity through solar panels. I also enjoyed this simulation because it served as a demonstration to me that sustainability goals are achievable, even if they do require extensive planning.
What did you learn as a result of this work experience?
I certainly gained skills in coding with R through my time working at CEPS. On a larger scale, I think my experience at CEPS showed me the importance of informative visualizations and the storytelling power that data holds.
Has your experience helped you in your academic studies, given you skills you can use in a future career or helped you to think differently about your academic and/or career path? If so, how?
As an economics major, it is always valuable to have coding skills to conduct statistical analysis and display data. Working at CEPS allowed me to reach a level of comfort with code that has made class assignments involving code a breeze. Additionally, my time at CEPS inspired me to apply to data science graduate programs in order to further my ability to harness data to solve diverse problems.
What did you most enjoy about the internship?
My favorite part about working at CEPS was the team I was a part of. It was a really collaborative environment, both between fellow students and our research advisors and project leads. Even though student researchers were typically assigned separate tasks and projects, these projects were very often linked to another researcher’s work. This allowed for a lot of opportunities for peer feedback and there were always people to bounce ideas off of. Everyone was very receptive to new ideas and to offering up advice. I think it resulted in an environment where there was a lot of creativity involved, even in data analysis. I really am grateful for the team I was able to work with and they taught me a lot.
Would you recommend working at the Cooper Center to future students?
I would absolutely recommend working at CEPS to other students. My time as a research assistant at the Weldon Cooper Center has been my favorite experience to date as an undergraduate student at UVA. I learned an immense amount and was able to work with some really brilliant people on a project I was enthusiastic about - and I can’t think of a better experience than that!