Sustainable Energy, the Aloha Spirit, and Finding Your Life’s Meaning: One Student’s Journey 

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As he prepares to graduate with a BS/MS in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Dane Yamashiro, a ‘21-‘22 Power & Energy Society (PES) Scholarship Plus Initiative recipient, is taking a moment to reflect on how far he has come.

Growing up in Hawaii, Dane began considering a career as an engineer in high school at Lolani. He recognized early that he wanted to enter a career that would allow him to make a difference by giving back and provide work-life balance.

“I did wrestling and judo in high school, and many of my practice partners were engineers. I knew I wanted a career that offered work-life balance, where I could also give back, and when I saw that Hawaii set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 – the first state in the nation to do so – I realized that by choosing a career as an engineer, I would have the option of returning to Hawaii to work. Math was always a strong suit for me, so when I sat down to consider, engineering seemed like the best fit. I chose electrical because of the renewable aspect and the opportunity to facilitate change,” Dane explained.

When it came time to choose a university, Dane opted for the Illinois Institute of Technology because it was the first school in the nation to have a self-sustaining campus microgrid clustered with a second microgrid, and because he wanted to be in a large city with opportunities including conferences, study abroad programs, research, and internships.

During his time at Illinois Tech, Dane has completed six internships at four different companies, including Burns & McDonnell, where he is currently completing his seventh internship and will continue to work as an electrical engineering intern through the summer. His previous rotations were with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, MK Engineers Ltd., and the Hawaii State Department of Transportation. Dane has also had the opportunity to travel extensively for conferences and study abroad programs to countries such as Iceland, France, and China and has visited roughly 15 US states during college. He credits the IEEE PES scholarship for allowing him to participate in many of these initiatives.

“I feel fortunate to have been able to do all those things – and many of them have been possible only because of the IEEE PES scholarship. A year ago, I was working part time to pay for college expenses, but now that I have the scholarship, I’ve been able to take advantage of all the offerings Illinois Tech provides. It’s been an enriching college experience that I wouldn’t have gotten without the scholarship,” he said.

In Dane’s scholarship application, he expressed how he wants to not only provide access to renewable energy sources for places in need, but also help people understand the “why” and “how” behind clean energy.

“I want to help change the way we look at empowerment and incorporating social equity into our daily lives. One way to do that is by providing localized clean power to underrepresented communities, but we also need to pair that with education,” he said. “I think people in Hawaii understand it more because we import our fossil fuels, and our electricity is the highest in the nation. If we were to locally source things such as electricity, we could build the economy and make things more sustainable and not have to rely on imports so much. It’s something that ties me back to home and keeps me grounded in my studies.”

As Dane looks toward the future, he hopes to transition to a full-time position where he can take part in empowerment and access initiatives in various locations related to renewable energy – including Hawaii – that also dovetail with the philosophies he follows: the Aloha Spirit and Ikigai (ee-key-guy).

“Ikigai is about finding your life’s purpose and is made up of four Venn diagrams that you want to be in the center of. The first is finding something you love doing, the second is finding something you’re good at, the third is finding something that will make money, and the fourth is something the world needs. And the other is the Aloha Spirit, which is a law in Hawaii that involves taking care of other people before yourself, doing good, and giving back to the community. When I’m back home I feel it, and when I’m in Chicago I try to apply it,” he said.

He continued, “As engineers, you want to find solutions for the world’s problems regarding renewable energy, but I’ve realized we can’t do it alone. I recently went to a study abroad called The Green Program that had a diverse background of majors including other engineers and political science, biology, and English majors from all over the nation, and we all had the same mindset: to provide clean, equitable, renewable energy. A lot of the time, you think you’re the only one thinking about these things, but you find out there are people from all over doing the same thing – and it’s by working together that we’ll find solutions.”

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