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Solar Energy International (SEI) Alumni Highlight - Carrie Schaffner

Posted by: chris
March 27, 2013

Before I started working for the U.S. Antarctic Program in 2005, I had only the most basic understanding of renewable energy technologies, and virtually no first hand experience. McMurdo Station basks in 24 hours of daylight for just over four months of the year, the same months during which the population swells, and yet there was nary a PV panel in sight. Over the course of several seasons, I heard a lot of unsatisfactory explanations as to why this was the case, and this motivated me to learn more. I heard about SEI from several different people in the program who had taken courses in the past, all of whom raved about the quality of workshops and instructors that SEI offered.

In researching the courses available, I read about the work-trade program offered by SEI and recognized it as an amazing opportunity to both learn while working within the organization, as well as the chance to take many more workshops than I would otherwise have been able to afford.

Over the course of the summer of 2010, I worked alongside Noah in the Solar-in-the-Schools program, teaching energy conservation to students in grades K-12, assisted in the set-up and day to day operations of two workshops for educators, and spent nearly eight weeks in SEI classes in Costa Rica, Carbondale, Paonia, and online. I took workshops in PV, solar thermal systems, sustainable building, and renewable energy for the developing world. Throughout both the work and the workshops, I found the lessons that interested me the most were those relating to passive solar design and sustainable building.

In a somewhat circuitous manner, SEI led me to Red Feather Development Group, an organization based in Bozeman, MT, that partners with American Indians to build energy- efficient straw bale homes and to address the housing issues facing tribal members. So the following summer, 2011, found me on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana, installing tubing for radiant floor heating and stacking bale walls. I was there from start to finish, from raking concrete for the home’s slab, to installing the crown boards on the finished interior walls. And I was completely in love- with the whole process of building with straw, with the beautiful, functional home I was leaving behind, with the people who I had the pleasure of working with. Six months later, I was still pulling straw out of my truck, and out of pockets, but six months, after that, I went back for round two, in the summer of 2012.

Being a work-trader with SEI, and then volunteering with Red Feather, were opportunities afforded by seasonal contract work in the Antarctic. But with eight Antarctic seasons under my belt, I find it is time to move on. So now I find myself looking for new adventures and new opportunities, with my eye on the broad field of sustainable development, knowing that the knowledge and experience I’ve gained through SEI and Red Feather will serve me well.

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