A student intern returns: Energy policy, the Beltway, and the ND way

September 16, 2008 • Categories: Journal Series

By Colleen Kelly


I am the stereotypical idealistic student. I strongly believe that creativity and ingenuity can solve any seemingly insurmountable problem. In particular, the energy crisis is one of those solvable problems. The complex and multi-faceted energy concerns including dwindling supply, increasing demand, environmental degradation, geopolitical unrest, and infrastructure problems can all be resolved.

However, my idealism was shaken when I went to Washington, D.C.

I interned in the office of Senator Richard Lugar, the senior senator from Indiana and a major player in energy policy. I had come to D.C. to learn, be inspired, and be part of the change. Yet, after only a few short weeks, I became discouraged.

The partisanship I experienced in D.C. was slightly unnerving. I witnessed many passionate debates between Senators, staffers, and citizens, but inaction caused by partisanship seemed to persist. Debate is effective, except when consensus or compromise is not reached. With high gas prices and a floundering economy, energy concerns were propelled to the forefront of public consciousness and political debate. But sadly, politics were inhibiting government from solving these issues.

In this polarized environment, I saw a great deal of hope. Senator Lugar is a man of integrity who demonstrated the importance and success of bipartisanship. He spent a great deal of time with my fellow interns and me, explaining the complexities of issues and the vicious political battles. Even though politics can interfere, I met and worked with many people who understood the value of collaboration, not only in government but among government, citizens, and industry.

Returning to school this year, my idealism has been tempered, but I am more confident that the energy crisis will be solved. The solution is not just a specific technology or a lifestyle adjustment. I have no doubt that technological advancements will be made. The most important components are collaboration and cooperation.

As the English philosopher Bertrand Russell once declared, “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.” The energy crisis is in good hands. I serve as the Vice President of GreeND, the newly emerging Notre Dame energy and environmental student organization. I have seen the passion, teamwork, and perseverance of the students I work with, and I hope these sentiments translate into the real world. There are different ways to combat the problem, but I have witnessed a renewal of the movement. The politicians could take a page out of my colleagues’ books.

The energy of the students is my new idealism.

Collen Kelly ’10, an economics major, is the vice president of GreeND, a representative on the University’s Energy and Environmental Issues Committee, and a member of the student advisory board fo Notre Dame’s Energy Center. She led a pilot program last year for Game Day Recycling.

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