Experiences at Lake Forest help 2012 graduate secure internship with U.S. Department of Energy

A recent graduate with big plans for her future – and the planet – recently accepted an invitation to participate in an internship with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Jen Kurtz’s entrance into the highly competitive Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships program means she will complete research with some of the best scientists in the world at the Ames National Laboratory at Iowa State University next spring. 

Her specific project, Mesoporous Materials, aims to capture greenhouse gases with nanomaterials. This is the first time the SULI has offered a spring semester program.

And as if that isn’t enough excitement for Kurtz, she also was invited to attend the Campus to Congress Leadership Conference.

She submitted a six-minute video essay to apply for a seat at the conference, which is designed for young people who value sustainability and clean energy and hope to make a difference by the age of 30. Some of the opportunities she had at Lake Forest helped her to be a competitive candidate in the selective application process.

“I want to begin to develop solutions to environmental problems…but at the same time, I want to be a scientist who’s in the public sphere, and addresses the issues on a regular basis,” Kurtz says in her video, donning a white lab coat and safety glasses. “I want to break the barrier between complex science and the general public’s understanding, because creating sustainable solutions will need the help and support of the public.”

Kurtz, who majored in chemistry and environmental science, learned about the opportunity from Associate Professor of Chemistry Lori A. Del Negro. The two worked closely throughout her studies at the College.

“The Chemistry faculty has always been really helpful and supportive,” Kurtz said.

Last summer, Kurtz worked with Del Negro to research a new method to detect pollutants. It was that hands-on experience in the lab that validated her decision to continue working toward a career in atmospheric chemistry.

She said the three-day conference, scheduled to take place in mid-March at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, will equip her with the communication skills necessary to start a dialogue with the public about issues surrounding sustainability. It also will provide her with a network of other young leaders through which she can further her education and spread information.

Kurtz made efforts to promote sustainability not only as a student at the College, but also as a three-year member of a student group, the League of Environmental Awareness and Protection. She served as president last year and led several initiatives, including a sustainability pledge and an environmental photography campaign.

“We tried to be creative in the ways we presented ideas of sustainability and we tried to make it fun to get people more involved,” she said.

Kurtz plans to study atmospheric chemistry at the graduate level, hopefully as early as next fall.