Dartmouth's Energy Justice Clinic: Experiential Learning to Make Significant Social Impact

Engineering student Daysia Charles '25 offers her perspective on the opportunities that Dartmouth's Energy Justice Clinic offers students from all interest areas and majors. 

With furrowed eyebrows, my eyes flickered fervently over my computer screen, looking over policies instilled by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, the CPCNH, Sustainable Hanover . . . and any other government organization that had an impact on Hanover's energy system. The room was abuzz with typing and dialogue between members of the Energy Justice (EJ) Clinic. I looked up towards other members of the policy group.

"You know," I started, "it would be pretty interesting to talk to the Hanover community partners group, to see how accessible politics are to grassroots organizations."

"That sounds cool! And maybe we can also communicate with the data research group a bit? With their data from students, we can reflect on how inequitable policies indirectly and directly impact student renters?"

"It would also be pretty cool to talk to the California group, to see how policies and their impacts on the community would be different in another state," adds another member.

We go back to typing fervently, creating a document for a list of our ideas.

This is the crux of Dartmouth's EJ Clinic, led by Drs. Sarah Kelly and Maron Greenleaf: a hub of ideas and collaboration, with intersectionality — the understanding that social issues and personal identities are fundamental factors in every portion of societal structure — held as a value as we explore energy justice issues within our community.

What is the Energy Justice Clinic?

Dartmouth's EJ Clinic started in winter 2022, with a group of six students, growing to a current size of nearly 20. Through the clinic, Drs. Kelly and Greenleaf sought to facilitate connections between Dartmouth students and community members surrounding issues of energy justice and equity. In the clinic, students are able to join projects that align with their interests, involving tasks that range from conducting interviews to performing data analysis.

In spring 2022, the Energy Justice course was launched, where students were able to learn about the meaning of energy inequity and understand its prevalence in each part of society. The energy justice course and clinic were intertwined, where lecture material gave students background on EJ, while projects were in the form of clinic work —  a significant source of experiential learning for students.

When first coming in contact with the EJ Clinic (through the Energy Justice course), I had no idea what to expect. As an environmental engineering major who grew up in Boston's low-income areas, I had some background with environmental justice — understanding how lower class and BIPoC communities are disproportionately burdened by current natural resource use. But it seemed like "energy justice" was an incredibly niche field. Yet, upon reading about the different projects that the EJ Clinic was working on, I found myself curious. Excited, I joined the energy justice class in spring of 2022.

Bringing Students of Different Backgrounds Together

As a member of the EJ Clinic since winter '22, Nadine Formiga '25 was drawn in by the interdisciplinary research. "I knew I wanted some experience with research, but everything was science, math, technical stuff. This was the first opportunity I saw about environmental humanities."

The EJ Clinic has been unique in the sense that it appeals to students of all majors and interests, and encourages students to ease out of their comfort zone. Clinic members are able to brainstorm different projects of interest, and select which project groups they would want to be part of. My spring '22 class was full of government, sociology, and engineering majors, along with several others. The backgrounds, interests, and experiences of students meshed within groups, passion, and excitement leading the topics to take on lives of their own.

"Different people from different backgrounds, degrees, and passions are able to come together and work together," says Reed Cole, '24. "The EJ Clinic combines science knowledge and ability to interact with others. It combines two different sides of the same realm... What the clinic is trying to do is unlike anything I've heard of or seen before."

The Sky's the Limit in Project Design

Currently, the clinic has several unique projects, ranging from conducting off campus energy audits, to researching and synthesizing best practices all over the country to make information accessible to nonprofits. Members of the clinic can support work in several ways, aligning with their personal goals.

For instance, for those working on the more science-based side of things, there are projects right up their alley. "We're doing a lot with weatherization this fall, and as an engineering major, this interests me," says Elaine Sarazan '25. "I've been able to communicate with Dr. Kelly to take initiative on this project."

Meanwhile, those interested in art and design are also invaluable to the clinic. "It's been fun. I love design and always joked that I would be a sneaker designer," says Reed. "I'm happy that I don't have to be an architect or design major to get involved in the design aspect of the clinic." Reed currently manages posts for the EJ Clinic Instagram (which looks amazing!). 

The Ability to Take Initiative — Follow Your Heart!

Clinic members also have the freedom to create their own groups, based on their interests. For instance, Nadine, from Brazil, loved that the clinic gave her the flexibility to work on an international project. "When I joined the clinic, I felt like I didn't connect with the New Hampshire case because I'm from another country. But I was given the flexibility to take initiative on the Chile case. I've learned so much from it." 

Members of Nadine's team have been working with the Mapuche-Williche — an indigenous community in Chile —as an energy company carries out a  hydroelectric dam project on their land. The group's experience has been multifaceted, as they have been able to learn about systemic issues harming indigenous communities, as well as how to respect indigenous cultures.

As an engineering major, I joined the policymaking group — arguably the least STEM-y — to explore topics that I usually wouldn't experience in other courses. Yet, I was taken aback by the feeling of the experiential learning that took place. I had the opportunity to sit at the table, to attend meetings held by Sustainable Hanover and the CPCNH  — to see decisions being made that would impact the entire community. In doing so, I and others on my team felt the weight of what we were doing. Each clinic project not only allowed us to make assessments on the state of Hanover's energy system — ones that would help inform future decisions — but also allowed us to see the specifics of energy justice in everyday life.

"I learned to understand the full scope of a community. From going to Sustainable Hanover community meetings to understanding that there are communities within a community, I gained experience looking at society through the lens of energy justice," says Reed, who was also on the policy team. "I've been able to connect this to other classes and issues."

Get Involved!

Participating in the Energy Justice course and Clinic has almost felt like going full circle. It has been amazing to learn about energy justice — about the ways in which we should bring equity to our energy system — to then bring these learnings and experiential research to our communities. It has been immensely fulfilling to hear the experiences of classmates, to feel the EJ Clinic room thrum with the energy of different projects.

I implore any student intrigued by the clinic to reach out, ask questions, and/or enroll in Professor Kelly's Energy Justice course, or Professor Greenleaf's Environmental Justice course. It is here that I, and many others, have found a sense of place and purpose.