Environmental Impact

In high school at St. Andrew’s in Delaware, Luke Baumann ’19 led a student task force in developing a proposal to install a small solar array on campus. They succeeded—researching the technology, meeting with contractors, presenting to the board of trustees, and securing funding through grants and donations—and the experience gave Baumann a sense of the impact he could have on the environment by working hard to advance data-driven ideas.

So he came to Williams hoping to do more of the same. Within days of his arrival in 2015, the college announced an ambitious $50 million plan aimed at addressing climate change. Soon after, Williams’ Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives put out a call for students to help in the effort by analyzing renewable energy development projects in which the college might invest.

Today, he and five other students make up the school’s renewable energy task force, meeting weekly with environmental consultants to study potential projects. Earlier this year, the students helped Williams lend its support to a 1.9-megawatt solar project on Williamstown’s capped landfill.

“We are fundamentally involved in the work to fulfill the college’s goals for climate change,” he says. “It’s a really rare opportunity and a great experience.”

Amy Johns ’98, director of the Zilkha Center, says Baumann and his peers are at the very front line of the college’s sustainability work. “In many ways they are getting the same experience that an entry-level position in a renewable energy development firm would have,” she says. “That’s one of the things that we really focus on in the Zilkha Center—giving students a very concrete opportunity to work on thinking about how you do sustainability.”

Baumann, a computer science and math major, also has written a program for the Zilkha Center to calculate the carbon toll of college business-related air travel and plotted an optimal commuter bus route based on faculty and staff home addresses. He’s now considering a career in renewable energy development or smart-grid technology.