NYSERDA: Rockefeller’s Energetic Internship Opportunity


Internships are a key component of the Rockefeller College experience, and being located in New York’s capital city gives students the opportunity to explore numerous state agencies in UAlbany’s own backyard. Over the years, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has given numerous Rockefeller students the exceptional opportunity to get involved in advancing energy solutions through its internship program. While the day-to-day life of workforces across the world were disrupted due to the ongoing pandemic, NYSERDA was still able to give students invaluable real-world experience with its 2020 remote summer internship. Below, NYSERDA’s Allison Capello tells more about the internship program and Rockefeller students Ryan DeNardo, Leslie Green, Agata Pijanowski, and Brittania Smead share their experience interning at NYSERDA and offer advice to fellow students pursuing virtual internships. 

Allison Capello

Human Resources Business Partner at NYSERDA

What is the mission of NYSERDA?  
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is the state’s energy and innovation agency that promotes energy efficiency and the use of clean, renewable energy sources — key efforts to achieving Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s nation-leading climate and clean energy goals that were put into law through the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). Guided by the CLCPA, NYSERDA’s work aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate economic growth, and provide more affordable and equitable energy choices for all New Yorkers. NYSERDA works with residents, business owners, developers, community leaders, local government officials, university researchers, utility representatives, investors, and entrepreneurs throughout New York to develop, invest, and foster the conditions that:

  • Attract the private sector capital investments needed to expand New York’s clean energy economy
  • Overcome barriers to using clean energy at a large-scale in New York
  • Enable New York’s communities and residents to benefit from energy efficiency and renewable energy

A public benefit corporation, NYSERDA’s mission has been advancing energy solutions and working to protect the environment since 1975.

Tell us about NYSERDA’s internship program.
NYSERDA’s internship program offers a tremendous learning opportunity. Interns are fully immersed with their program teams – working on meaningful projects with the shared goal of advancing NYSERDA’s mission.  

How was the internship adapted in 2020?
The summer 2020 internship program was a huge success. Forty-two interns worked with us in a telework capacity – virtually attending meet and greets with a variety of staff to gain a holistic view of NYSERDA’s work, engaging in weekly check ins with each other, and capping their summer experience with virtual presentations to members of our Executive team. They cheered each other on and fielded questions like pros! This is always a highly regarded event by NYSERDA staff and the interns. The takeaways are invaluable for all. 

What has it been like working with students from Rockefeller? 
The innate curiosity of Rockefeller students is fantastic. We are so fortunate to have an opportunity to work alongside them and watch their skills and confidence continuously expand.  

What makes a great candidate for your internship program?   
The best candidates are curious and open to learning. From there – the sky’s the limit.

What advice would you give students interested in an internship or employment opportunity with NYSERDA?
To learn about opportunities in real time, sign up for our Careers LISTSERV. When applying, offer a detailed cover letter, highlighting how your experience aligns with that position. When interviewing, don’t hold back on asking questions.

Ryan DeNardo

Program: MPA (May 2021 projected completion)

Tell us about your experience interning at NYSERDA.
I started my internship with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) Data Governance team in June of 2020 and will be continuing my placement throughout the academic year. My role entails ensuring the overall confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and information used throughout the Authority. 

My supervisors have done a fantastic job assigning me a variety of tasks that directly relate to my degree program. I’ve had the pleasure of spearheading information security audits on over 40 third-party platforms to ensure the applications are safe for use by NYSERDA employees. This is important for organizations because malicious actors routinely target third-party platforms. Each platform adds risk to NYSERDA’s systems and data, so it is critical to implement a vetting and approval process to ensure strong security controls. I also had the exciting experience of developing and leading NYSERDA’s Cyber Security Awareness Month initiatives, a nationally recognized effort sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security designed to increase end-user awareness. In addition, I’ve had the privilege of engaging with data stewards and project managers to develop, classify, and clean large energy-related datasets, metadata, and data dictionary files prior to being published on OPEN NY – a public data platform designed for collaboration and analysis.  

When applying to positions, I was attracted to NYSERDA’s commitment to information security and data governance. NYSERDA is a popular target for malicious actors due to the nature of its work. Being a part of the team that protects NYSERDA’s systems and data was an exciting learning opportunity. Working for NYSERDA has allowed me to develop my understanding of how a public organization collaborates with many different internal and external stakeholders to ensure information security. Data Governance works closely with Legal, IT, contractors, end-users, and the C-suite to accomplish our mission. Given the remote nature of my placement, I was also able to develop my virtual communication skills – frequent and clear communication has become essential in the remote environment.  

My experience at NYSERDA has allowed me to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom to a reputable public organization. I have accepted an offer with Deloitte’s Risk and Financial Advisory practice as a Cyber Analyst starting in Summer of 2021. My work at NYSERDA directly relates to the position at Deloitte and has provided me the competencies required to start a career at a reputable firm. I believe this type of hands-on learning is highly sought after by employers — it’s not enough to simply say you have a degree. Field experience is crucial because there will always be a disconnect between what you learn in the classroom and how those concepts are applied in your field. For any students looking to secure a remote placement, I would recommend taking advantage of any training sessions or meet and greets your employer may offer. Also, be willing to take on tasks that may seem challenging. Internships are designed to be a learning experience and should provide opportunities that encourage you to step out of your comfort zone — this is an important part of your professional development.  

Leslie Green

Program: MPA, May 2020

Tell us about your experience interning at NYSERDA.
I am a temporary NYSERDA Fellow on the Policy Development team within the Energy and Environmental Analysis unit. I am fortunate to be able to work on a broad range of initiatives, so my responsibilities are very dynamic. My role includes supporting various aspects of implementing New York’s landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, often referred to as the CLCPA or Climate Act, managing the development of NYSERDA’s annual Clean Energy Industry Report, and internal business continuity planning (including COVID-19 planning and response).   

I started at NYSERDA as an intern halfway through my master’s program and loved the projects I was working on, the broader topics I was thinking about, and the people I was working with so I was really happy to have the chance to stay on and continue developing my skills and knowledge in this field. 

I’ve really been able to grow in my time here. There’s so much going on across the climate and clean energy policy space and there are a lot of really engaged people working on these issues, so I’m always learning and being supported by very smart and encouraging colleagues. 

It’s hard to pinpoint just a few specific skills I developed in my graduate studies, because I feel like I carry a lot of tangible and intangible aspects of my graduate experience throughout my work on a regular basis. However, the ability able to plan and implement projects collaboratively and analyze and concisely communicate findings and recommendations has been key to being successful in my role. 

During my time at Rockefeller, I was a Graduate Assistant for the college and then started as an intern on my current team at NYSERDA. I had but no background or knowledge in energy issues despite several experiences working on other aspects of environmental issues, so I would say just go for it to students interested in pursuing a similar line of work. There are a lot of ways to contribute to the work on climate and clean energy, so just start exploring what seems interesting to you.

To students on the job market during these uncertain times, I graduated with my MPA at the height of the COVID-19 response in New York, so I can certainly relate. Stay engaged and open with your network about what you’re looking for, be willing to pivot or temporarily try new things, but also recognize that there may be aspects of this situation that are beyond your control and that that is not a reflection of your capabilities or your worth. 

Agata Pijanowski

Program: MPA, May 2020

Tell us about your experience interning at NYSERDA.
At NYSERDA, I am currently a temporary assistant project manager. I wanted to continue working at NYSERDA post-graduation, because I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as an intern at NYSERDA. At NYSERDA I do meaningful, challenging, and rewarding work that aligns with my interests. I concentrated in Environmental Policy at Rockefeller, and the courses I took in Environmental Policy directly align with my work at NYSERDA. Furthermore, I wanted to continue working at NYSERDA because I was on a fantastic, dynamic, motivated team that mentored me throughout my internship, and I wanted to continue on this team and continue my role as a catalyst for change within New York State. 

A highlight of my position at NYSERDA was working with my supervisor to brainstorm, write, and develop a Request for Proposals (RFP) for our Clean Energy Communities Coordinators. The Clean Energy Communities Coordinators play a pivotal role in the success of our program. To be able to work on an RFP with such a large and impactful scope was extremely rewarding. After the RFP was released, I organized and facilitated the scoring committee meeting to award the proposers that successfully responded to the solicitation and received funding. After the proposals were awarded, I worked with my team to get their contracts into place and assisted with the planning of a training for the awarded firms. This entire process has taken over a year and a half, and it is so rewarding to see an effort of this magnitude come full circle. 

I have applied skills and knowledge from both my qualitative and quantitative courses at Rockefeller. I have used quantitative skills from Data, Models, and Decisions to help organize and inform data for our program and I have used skills from financial analysis and statistics to better understand our budgeting and forecasting. At NYSERDA, I am working for all people in New York State, and I hold myself accountable while working to remember that the citizens of New York’s interests are at stake. This mindset has been shaped by my classes all having an underlying theme that public administrators must always act ethically, professionally, and with the utmost accountability. 

I held an internship at NYSERDA the entire time I was a student at Rockefeller. The benefit of staying so long at one internship is that you can get a very strong understanding of your program team’s priorities, efforts, and operations. Because I stayed for two years as an intern, I was able to take over duties that had previously been assigned to full-time employees. If you are interested in working on meaningful work that has a real-life policy impact, then NYSERDA is a fantastic opportunity. 

I would advise students that are on the job market during these uncertain times that it is okay to take risks and stray from your intended post-graduation plan — it might work out for the best! 

Brittania Smead

Program: MPA (May 2021 projected completion)

Tell us about your experience interning at NYSERDA.
Climate change demands a clean energy transition and NYSERDA is leading that transition not only in New York State, but across the nation. After working in public interest advocacy and in the growing solar industry, I was interested in supporting clean energy adoption through public organizations. NYSERDA’s public service and clean energy values align with my own and working at NYSERDA offers an unmatched opportunity to advance my career goals. By directly supporting NYSERDA’s work with local governments in New York State, I have cultivated an understanding of contracting processes, program design, and project management, which enrich the skills I need to advance my career, as they are an essential part of the clean energy transition.   

As an intern on the Communities and Local Government team, I supported NYSERDA’s work to help local governments pursue energy efficiency and clean energy projects that will grow the economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. My primary responsibility is to develop materials used in solicitations, project management, and program administration. I played a key role in the development of a mini-bid, a Request for Information (RFI), and a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by NYSERDA. I recently had the unique privilege to serve as Chair of the scoring committee that reviewed proposals and selected a contractor to provide technical support to the Communities and Local Government team at NYSERDA.

My work at NYSERDA was highly collaborative, so adapting to remote work required a commitment to new processes of communication. In addition to enhancing my team-oriented communication skills, I cultivated an understanding of the social, political, and economic context surrounding New York’s clean energy initiatives and how COVID-19 factors in.  

Working at NYSERDA gave me a more complete understanding of the interactions between public, private, and nonprofit organizations that drive clean energy development.  As an aspiring public servant in the clean energy sector, my experience at NYSERDA will help to inform my next steps. 

To students in a remote internship, be proactive about communication and check in with your supervisor regularly. Set clear deadlines for your work and speak up sooner rather than later when you’re having difficulty meeting a deadline. If possible and appropriate, schedule one-on-one or small group meetings with your new colleagues where you can introduce yourself and get to know a little more about them. Personal connections may happen more organically when working at an office (e.g. during lunches, waiting for a meeting to start, making tea in the shared kitchen). Working remotely just means we have to be more intentional about creating these opportunities!