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Meet the graduating student employees

The sounds of summer: students hauling furniture out of residence halls, shouting good-byes to friends, and piling into minivans to head home for a well-deserved three-month break. Most relish free time spent relaxing with family and friends, but some start a new journey altogether: life as a college graduate.

Each year, IonE employs over two dozen undergraduate and graduate students. They work with each of our programs – from Acara to Sustainability Education and everything in between – and are the spark behind many new projects and initiatives. They’re a driving force that pushes the Institute forward. But saying hello almost always requires a goodbye, and every year we wish our own graduates good luck as they begin their journeys and pursue new opportunities beyond our walls.

Here’s your chance to meet a few of them.

Five of the 2019 IonE student employee graduates: (L-R) Kaitlyn Kubat, Christov Churchward, Meg Hannsch, Jillian Hansen, Talula Pontuti


How long have you been working at/with IonE? What is your official title?

  • Kaitlyn: I’ve worked at IonE with Ensia since September of 2018, so about 8 to 9 months. My official title is Editorial Assistant for Ensia and my main job is fact checking news articles.

  • Christov: Three (fantastic!) years. Energy Programs Coordinator.

  • Jillian: I have been working with IonE for 1 year. I am the social media and outreach intern for Ensia magazine.

  • Meg: I’ve been at IonE for two and a half years, since January 2016. I work for the NorthStar Institute for Sustainable Enterprise as a Student Research Assistant.

  • Talula: My official title is Acara Program Associate, and I worked for Acara the fall semester of 2017, and then again from September 2018 to May 2019.

If you could describe IonE in one word, what would it be?

  • Kaitlyn: Enlightening.

  • Christov: Bridge.

  • Jillian: Coffee.

  • Meg: If I could describe IonE in one word, it would be visionary. The Institute as a whole and all the employees I have worked with are always forward-looking and focused on creating a better future, no matter what the project may be. Another good word would be cooperative – there is a noticeable emphasis on collaborating, communicating, and developing good working relationships with outside organizations.

What is the biggest lesson your time at IonE has taught you?

  • Kaitlyn: Find information for yourself; don’t let other people tell you what something means. And if you can’t find it, start asking questions.

  • Christov: The importance of thinking through how scientific pursuits outside of purely basic research will be brought to the market early on. Connecting the two can improve project viability without compromising the science.

  • Jillian: Through my time working at IonE I have definitely improved my ability to multitask and adapt to new job requirements. I do not come from a background in marketing or journalism, so I have had to learn skills from these industries while on the job and was definitely supported by my wonderful supervisors.

  • Meg: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is probably how many people it takes to pull off a project. My work is just one little piece of the puzzle, but as my part comes together, I get to see how it fits with the parts that others are working on to create a much bigger picture. I’ve been really fortunate to work with or for some amazing people, so I feel that I’ve learned to appreciate their expertise. (I’ve also learned how to organize my research notes so they’re intelligible to other people!)

  • Talula: You can create major changes in the world around you with hard work and love. It doesn’t have to come from major programs, but the accumulation of individual actions can transform lives.

What are your plans after graduation?

  • Kaitlyn: After I graduate in December, I plan to take a two-week trip through Ireland and the UK. After that, I’ll hopefully be working with an environmental nonprofit in Seattle or Boston.

  • Christov:  I’m excited to be working at the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) as a Strategy Advisor in their Markets team.

  • Jillian: After graduation I will be working with US Solar in Minneapolis as a sales and development associate, helping to develop solar gardens across Minnesota and the midwest. Yay clean energy!

  • Meg: After graduation, I’ll be doing a sustainability internship with the City of Maplewood over the summer. After that wraps up, I hope to find a long-term position doing sustainability projects. I hope to stick around the Twin Cities for a while still, but we’ll see where the opportunities open up.

  • Talula: At the end of May, I’ll be moving to Salt Lake City, Utah to work for the city of Salt Lake City in their sustainability department, SLCgreen. I’ll be their Sustainability Outreach Coordinator. I’m looking forward to working for them and spending time playing outside!

What’s one piece of advice you’d love to offer to freshman year you?

  • Kaitlyn: Get out of your dorm and go to those events! Make friends, both peers and mentors. Join those student groups and don’t be afraid to talk to people; they’ve got pretty cool stories.

  • Christov: Well, freshman year me was over a decade ago, but I’d say to start taking the weird, off-the-wall classes (meditation, improv, ecological ethics in my case) early on. Having gone back to grad school for an MBA/MPP, I’m still a proponent of the liberal arts undergraduate education.

  • Jillian: I think that I would tell freshman Jillian to take a little time to slow down! It is super easy to get wrapped into a pattern of just worrying about what test or deadline is coming next and to forget to live in the present. I hope to continue to work on this advice as I go out into the working world as well.

  • Meg: I would tell my freshman year self to relax and be confident – she has a lot of potential, and chances to develop it will arrive when they’re needed. I would also give myself a hint to look into sustainability sooner!

  • Talula: I wish I would have taken more time to engage in more activities outside of required class my first couple of years. That has consistently been where I have learned the most, made the best connections, and been able to really expand my learning. Whether it’s university events or clubs, GCC courses, or spending time in the community outside of the university – it’s all incredibly valuable.


Grace Becker is the communications associate at IonE and an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota, where she studies strategic communication, sustainability studies, and Spanish. 

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