Combining engineering with a passion for social justice
Nils Stannik says, “I want to do something where I’m applying my engineering skills to something that will improve the world.”
Nils is a graduating senior with a major in electrical engineering and a minor in German. He has found way to seamlessly weave his interests in energy, sustainability and social justice through his coursework, internships, and extra-curricular activities.
Here's an informal video of Nils talking about his experiences with Woven Wind, as a student in Germany, and advice for students:
EE and Energy
Nils passion is energy and environmental policy – and he thought maybe he’d go into environmental engineering, but quickly discovered that electrical engineering would give him the overall systems perspective that he was looking for. After four years, believes he made the correct choice.
In the past two years, he earned scholarships from the IEEE Power & Energy Society and the Utility Variable-Generation Integration Group based on his interest in electric power engineering and alternative energy solutions.
Nils’ favorite courses reflect his interest in the interdisciplinary topics of the environment, politics, and sustainability. They include The German and European Left, by Prof. Andrei Markovits, and Sustainable Engineering Principles, a team-taught course that was offered by the Civil Engineering department.
He took Prof. Juan Rivas’ Power Electronics course which he found both challenging and interesting, and audited Prof. Ian Hiskens’ course in Energy Networks and Markets. Prof. Hiskens has continued to be a mentor to Nils.
His favorite EECS course? Electromagnetics II. “It was cool stuff, very tangible,” said Nils. “You could see how stuff could be used, what it means, what it looks like.”
In addition to coursework, he has had internships in Ann Arbor and Berlin, Germany - each focusing on power and energy systems.
Bringing Sustainable Energy to Guatemala
During Spring Break of his freshman year, Nils worked with a local non-profit organization called Appropriate Technology Collaborative (ATC), installing solar panels on a trade school in rural Guatemala. He got to do this by responding to a mass email asking if students were interested in doing service work over Spring Break. He thought, “Yeah – Guatemala, I’ve never been there.”
When this project ended, he was drawn into the planning stages for bringing electricity to Guatemala using wind energy. ATC was again involved, and became the umbrella organization for a team of students to work on this issue as part of BLUElab (Better Living Using Engineering Laboratory). BLUElab is a student-run organization that brings together teams of students to develop environmentally, culturally, and economically sustainable technologies both at home and abroad.
Nils visited Guatemala the following year as well, this time as part of the BLUElab Woven Wind team. Watch a video about what they do (and try to catch Nils as he appears throughout the video):
ATC calls this project the Women Wind Weavers of Guatemala. The women actually weave the blades of the wind turbines, and the entire wind turbine is designed to be made of material available locally.
Local Efforts and a Commitment to Service and Social Justice
Nils provides a significant amount of service to his local community as well. He is living at Telluride House, a scholarship house which focuses on three things – community service, intellectual inquiry, and self-governance. For the past two Spring Breaks he worked with Freedom House Detroit, a refugee center for political asylum seekers – primarily from sub-Saharan Africa. He helps introduce the refugees to U.S. culture so that they can thrive in their new home.
In addition, he tutors at local high schools, works with a program called “A Taste of Music” to bring homeless individuals to University Musical Society events, and volunteers with the local animal shelter.