By Curran Edland
In many ways, Energy Corps is the ideal situation for a college graduate short on real world experience and long on time. It is an opportunity to immerse yourself in a passion without committing to a career. It is a chance to build relationships with people that are excited about bettering the communities they live in. It is a chance to discover your working strengths as well as weaknesses. It is also a chance, unfortunately, to become frustrated, discouraged, and sometimes worst of all, broke.
I consider myself a generally lucky person to be able to grow up in a small town community with the support of a loving family. I was given the opportunity to pursue soccer after college and since math made sense to me, I found my greatest challenge to be an 8 AM calculus class in Pittsburgh, PA. Four years and just over $160,000 later, I escaped my education with just $12,000 weighing on my name. At least I got my degree. What they don’t tell you in high school though is that, just getting a bachelors, and just playing division one soccer, and just graduating cum laude, doesn’t really mean anything if you care about where you want to live. I mean, I wasn’t going to stay in Pittsburgh. Not only did I live with a couple of uneducated voters my senior year, but I also couldn’t find any friends that enjoyed a 5 mile walk up a mountain over a bro date to Chipotle and drinking until you saw that same chicken burrito later that night. It was never truly my city. For that to happen I would need to spontaneously start enjoying baseball and not only that but learn the players involved to a point where I could keep up with the youngest of yinzers. I digress. I had to move, and the only place I knew I could afford for -$12,000 was home, Whitefish, Montana. So I moved into my grandparent’s old house and started working at a pizza shop. It took all of four months to realize that a lifetime of taking orders and making pizza wasn’t for me and after most of a year I went on a “find myself” trip to Iceland. When I got back, I knew what I needed to do, but with just a B.S. in mechanical engineering I found it very hard to get my foot in the door at any company I wanted to work for. Instead, I found myself volunteering for a local non-profit called Climate Smart Glacier Country and as I grew my relationships there, an opportunity for an Energy Corps position appeared.
I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. The position was created specifically for me and I found myself with three separate supervisors. Each one with an incredibly different style of management. It took time, but I eventually got the hang of it. Unfortunately, by the time I was comfortable, I only had three months left of service. Which brings me to today. As a college graduate trying to pay off my student loans, living in an increasingly expensive town, and serving close to a full time job at just over $1000/month. It can be hard for me to justify this experience. When you spend just under half of your monthly allowance on living, it doesn’t leave much for food + student loans + an aging car and insurance + a social life + and if I’m lucky maybe a few dollars in the savings account. Lucky for me, I have a huge part of my close and extended family in and around Whitefish so I know I will be alright but I can’t imagine what other Energy Corps members are going through with the extra stress of being in a completely new state.
So back to my original question. For me, I think I do love what I do enough to do what I love. I look at it as an investment in my future. And hopefully this investment will pay off a little bit more than the last. I believe that what I am doing, and more importantly, what I’m setting myself up for is relevant and interesting. I like being involved in all three organizations because I have gotten a look into how each of them operate. I love making connections and getting people that might not usually be involved, excited on saving energy, using less plastic, and thinking in a sustainable way. Climate change is real, my generation and the ones to follow will live the consequences of past ignorance. It is my responsibility and my prerogative to do as much as I can to jumpstart local changes and be an example of responsible citizenship, even if it means sometimes sacrificing my emotional well-being. I do what I love because I can, and I will continue to do it. I just hope this experience opens my door up to a real job.