MnTAP Internship: Designed to deliver for Minnesota businesses
Internships are known for exposing students to real-time challenges that go beyond what they can learn in classrooms. When an internship works well, it offers the intern unique opportunities to build knowledge and relationships that will help to shape how they later see — and succeed in — the workaday world of their chosen profession. From résumé building to character building, the benefits for learners are clear.
But what if the intern isn’t the only
Going above and beyond the norm, the very best internships are those from which all parties benefit — including the myriad ways an internship site can benefit from the unique skills and experience of the intern placed with them. That satisfying balance reflects CEE’s recent experience with MnTAP intern Tiger Rost.
The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, or “MnTAP,” is an outreach and assistance program at the University of Minnesota that helps Minnesota businesses develop and implement industry-tailored solutions that prevent pollution at the source, maximize efficient use of resources, and reduce energy use and costs to improve public health and the environment. Established in 1984, MnTAP is funded primarily by a pass-through grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Resource Management and Assistance Division to the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Division of Environmental Health Sciences.
Broadly, MnTAP’s staff provides free, industry-tailored technical assistance to businesses in need. Assistance can range from site visits to phone support, and from shared resources to workshops. Among its offerings, MnTAP pairs motivated students with suitable internship sites — and the interns are meant to contribute as much as they gain from the program.
This year CEE opted into the program and was paired with Tiger, a 21-year-old aerospace engineering student slated to graduate in 2018. Tiger was attracted to the internship as a way to get real-world experience and apply all the lessons he’d learned in more traditional settings. After placement with the Energy Intelligence for Industry program, an Xcel Energy offering that is implemented by CEE, he arrived ready to learn and to work.
The Energy Intelligence program tracks and analyzes data to help businesses understand how and when they use energy, and provides low-cost (or no-cost) solutions to cut energy waste. The program is offered free-of-charge to small industrial customers in Xcel Energy’s Minnesota service territory with less than 400 KW of demand, and typical customer engagement with the program runs four to eight months.
“Energy Intelligence sets a minimum goal of 5% energy savings per site, but our average energy savings amount to closer to 9%,” explains engineer Gustav Brändström, Tiger’s liaison at CEE. “Thanks to Tiger's contributions, however, we were able to identify anywhere from 11% to 45% energy savings for the five sites where he spent time.”
Employing a varied range of energy-saving approaches, Tiger unearthed potential annual savings ranging from 86,000 kilowatt-hours to 290,000 kilowatt-hours at the sites, and additionally identified opportunities to cut 830 therms annually at one site and 64 gallons of water at another. Potential financial savings for the sites typically ran from about $10,000 to $25,000 (or more) per year. With Xcel Energy rebates, payback for Tiger’s recommended upgrades to equipment or operations could be expected in less than two years.
From the beginning, Tiger suspected his background would pay off at CEE. "The internship's focus was on industrial engineering, which overlaps a lot with aerospace engineering,” he says. “Working with client-specific technologies like lighting or injection molding, I had opportunities to learn and enhance my own background. Likewise, my specialization in aerospace engineering also brought fresh angles for solutions."
The MnTAP internship let Tiger apply his very focused educational track more broadly. From his perspective, “I was excited about the opportunity to look at everything
in a building — all the factors that can contribute to energy use or savings — instead of just paying attention to one narrow task or set of responsibilities.”
Without question, this was an internship that benefited all parties. "For CEE, Tiger's internship paid off through increased capacity for skilled project support,” emphasizes Gustav. “Tiger added hours, and sometimes days, to our time onsite with clients, which opened doors to exploring more potential avenues for savings.”
And like many of CEE’s current staff of researchers, program practitioners, and engineers, Gustav is no stranger to internships from the other
side of the desk. He recognizes the program's unique value for students because when he himself was an engineering student, he participated in a similar internship through the Industrial Assessment Center in Ames, Iowa
. Gustav credits that early onsite engineering internship with helping set the course for his own career path, which eventually led him to CEE.
For more information about the MnTAP internship program, visit http://mntap.umn.edu/intern/
Photo credit: "MnTAP Solutions" intern program report, 2015