Shaena Berlin: Linking Energy and Environmental Challenges

A 2013 graduate of the MIT Energy Studies Minor program

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Studying Energy at MIT means many things to many students. For some, it means urban planning or ocean engineering. For others, it means nuclear physics or climate science. Energy permeates almost all disciplines at MIT. This is the fourth installment of a 4-part series that offers an inside look at the interests and motivations of a few Energy Studies Minor students.

Shaena Berlin

Shaena Berlin ’13, an Earth, Atmospheric, & Planetary Sciences (EAPS) major, came to MIT as an environmentalist eager to advocate for ramping up renewables and stopping dependence on fossil fuels. But Berlin’s energy minor courses pushed her to widen her perspective and reassess her pathway to making a real positive impact.

“By pursuing the energy minor, I added an applied level of understanding to the more abstract physical concepts presented in EAPS,” says Berlin, whose favorite energy class was Introduction to Sustainable Energy because it gave her a broad overview of technological and political energy challenges. “I understand now the magnitude of the world’s energy consumption and that the energy-environment issue is not only about polluted air and defaced mine lands, but intrinsically related to economic and human development.”

Understanding the needs and limitations of today’s world, Berlin studies the interactions between energy sources and air pollution, with an eye towards determining potential policy solutions to reduce the negative effects of fossil fuels. One such project included drafting a plan for managing CO2 sequestration worldwide, which Berlin did through MIT’s Terrascope learning community.

Berlin also sees the necessity of gaining experience beyond the Institute’s walls. During her undergraduate career, she has clinched two internships within the federal government: one with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where she analyzed ground-level ozone pollution; and one with the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program, where she promoted ways to reduce petroleum consumption in the transportation sector.

From these positions, Berlin learned that mathematical and technological advances aren’t enough to solve our problems. “The public and people with political sway need to be convinced to implement these changes,” Berlin says.

To create effective arguments for change, Berlin believes a strong grasp of both energy and the environment is needed – and her experiences at MIT have equipped her with knowledge and skills in these intersecting areas.

Berlin remains an environmentalist, but has redefined her vision of how she can be most effective. “With my background in atmospheric chemistry, paired with energy policy and technological knowledge, I feel I can analyze solutions from several unique perspectives.”

With the acumen of a scientist, engineer and policy analyst, Berlin looks forward to what the future holds for her career. But she’ll need to wait one more year, as Berlin will begin her fifth and final year at MIT next fall as a master’s student in atmospheric science.

This article is part of the I Minored in Energy at MIT: 4 Student Stories series.