Joanne Liu '23

Hometown: Hong Kong, China
Major: Economics modified with Environmental Studies

A Different Experience

Growing up in a city of eight million people, Joanne Liu '23 explains, you don't get a lot of chances to regularly enjoy nature. So when she embarked upon her college search, in addition to looking for a school with a strong liberal arts core, she was also interested in getting more connected to nature. "For college," she says, "I wanted a different experience for myself." After talking with a few students from her Hong Kong high school who had gone on to Dartmouth, she knew she had found her college. 

While Joanne was excited about the opportunity a liberal arts focused school would give her to explore a range of subjects, she also knew that  she was interested in economics. "I liked the econ classes I took in high school and so coming into college, I was pretty set on just pursuing that path," she says. Her engagement with energy at Dartmouth, however, "was very much by accident." 

During the fall of her sophomore year, during the height of the COVID pandemic, Joanne was back home in Hong Kong. "I had seen there was this announcement for an online panel on careers and renewable energy with Max Holden '22 and Jordan Swett '19, and I dialed into the talk. . . . it was at 8 p.m. Hanover time, so it was very early in Hong Kong… But after that, I was just like, 'Whoa, this is really fascinating stuff!'" 

"Why not try it out?"

Joanne was intrigued by the possibilities that a career in energy offered, and realized that "there's jobs out there where you can help people have more equity and better access to energy and also help with actually reducing carbon emissions and working towards a more sustainable future." The experience helped her see a path for herself in energy, where her economics knowledge could help her make an impact. 

After that, Joanne attended a number of other online talks, including the Irving Institute's Alumni Sparks series, to keep learning about career possibilities and energy. "And so sophomore summer, when I got back to Dartmouth, Max [Holden] reached out and said, 'Hey, would you be interested in helping out with the Dartmouth Energy Alliance?'" At first Joanne hesitated. "I was a bit intimidated because I was a newcomer to the space. I wasn't sure that I was prepared enough." But then she thought "why not try this out?" She has wound up being one of the club's leaders, and has been involved in energy at Dartmouth in general. "It's just been a great learning experience overall," she says. 

One of the highlights of Joanne's DEA leadership was the successful launch of the first Dartmouth Energy Hackathon in fall 2022. The DEA leadership, explains Joanne, saw a real appetite among Dartmouth students to have an opportunity to set aside time to "brainstorm solutions to some of the pressing problems in our world." And so they organized the first annual Energy Hack. Joanne recalls: "It was so great to see a bunch of people across campus — PhD students, masters students, seniors and freshmen" come together for the Hack. "And it was really cool to show alumni what the next generation of energy leaders is doing!" 

Any Job Can Be a Climate Job 

After Joanne finishes her degree requirements in fall '23, she has a job lined up in investment banking. While the position won't be specific to energy, Joanne recalls a revelation she had while participating in a DEA spring break trip to the American Council on Renewable Energy Policy Forum in Washington, DC. While there, she was able to connect with Dartmouth alumni. "Speaking to some young alumni, I realized I don't need to necessarily work in an energy focused space… to find opportunities that are more energy focused within my line of work. I may be able to adapt my role to be the resident climate expert, energy expert." 

Joanne's experience at Dartmouth has left her hopeful for a more sustainable future. "From my freshman through senior year, I've seen such a huge shift in the number of incoming freshmen that say I'm interested in fighting climate change, I'm interested in sustainability, or energy, or renewable energy. The underclassmen are just so incredibly passionate about energy, and so like I feel like with each generation of Dartmouth students, and I'm sure students across the world, across the US, people are making this their priority, both academically and beyond college." 

Curiosity and Connections Are Key

When asked for any advice she has for incoming Dartmouth students who are curious about energy and climate, Joanne has three pieces of advice. "For one, follow your curiosity. It's kind of corny but also, I think my freshman year, I was very fixated on what I had to do: what courses I needed to take, how I could accomplish my major, should double or triple major… I had to realize, actually, it's totally fine to take courses that are unrelated to your major at all." 

Second, Joanne encourages students to expand their understanding of what energy is. "Energy intersects with so many different disciplines. I think a lot of people think about energy and they think engineering … and that's, for sure, one thing, but I think it's more about the way that you think and the problems you're trying to solve rather than like, specifically acquiring certain hard skill sets. I would definitely say branch out into the policy spaces, environmental studies classes, and earth sciences classes to understand how our world works." 

And finally, she stresses the importance of seeking out meaningful experiences with other people who are excited about this topic. "So that means talking to alumni, getting involved with the DEA or Energy Justice Clinic, seeing renewable energy facilities, going on immersion trips …these opportunities have been some of the highlights of my time at Dartmouth." These interpersonal connections make all the difference, says Joanne. "When we talk to people in the real world it becomes so much more tangible and real and we get a much better understanding of how we can apply energy to a future job and make a real impact on our world."