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Reflections: Akwugo Nnama ’12

Akwugo Nnama
Photograph courtesy of Akwugo Nnama ’12.

I am currently a senior energy consultant in Navigant’s technology, management, and policy group. I graduated from Thayer in 2013 and joined Navigant as an energy consultant. I am very fortunate to work with people I consider to be among the smartest professionals in the energy industry. During every meeting, I am always impressed by the caliber of the discussions, ideas shared, and the innovative solutions proposed. My team primarily focuses on energy efficiency regulatory policy for the U.S. Department of Energy. This includes developing market and benchmark assessments, reverse-engineering teardown analyses, and drafting of policy documents. I have spent a lot of time in our test facility, where I work with the lab manager to test, take apart, and sometimes fix appliances. One of my project highlights was tearing down a commercial boiler. My time spent in the machine shop and Couch Lab at Thayer has played a major role in my career success. I strive daily to embody the boldness and strength that Thayer instills in its students, especially women.

I remember building a Stirling engine in ENGS 25: Introduction to Thermodynamics, which gave me the opportunity to spend some time in the machine shop and gain hands-on experience. My Stirling engine currently sits on the mantelpiece in my apartment—a daily reminder of the “can-do” attitude that Thayer inculcates in its students. A good friend and former colleague, Caitlin Johnson ’10 Th’11, recently borrowed my Stirling engine for a demo in the high school physics class she teaches.

I had the amazing opportunity of getting to know Professors Mark Laser, Steve Peterson, Vicki May, John Collier, Elsa Garmire, and Karl Griswold and they helped shape my experience tremendously. I was incredibly fortunate to have Mark Laser as my senior thesis advisor. Steve Peterson provided invaluable support and guidance as well. My thesis, “Rural Electrification in Nigeria: Solar Home Systems as a Potential Solution,” explores the financial constraints, social issues and unsuccessful deployment mechanisms preventing mass deployment of energy technologies in Africa. Using Nigeria as a case study, I found that when financial resources can effectively support a business model, beneficial “tipping points” potentially exist, leading to massive adoption of energy technologies. Upon request, I have sent my thesis to African entrepreneurs in the energy space. I hope that by leveraging our collective knowledge, we can engender social change. Universal access to electricity, to help improve the lives of Africans, is a cause that my father and I hold dear. Therefore, I was elated when Mark Laser invited my father, Emmanuel Nnama, to give a phone lecture in an energy conversion course, in which my father discussed his exciting career as an electrical engineer and encouraged the students to use their talents to improve the lives of others.

The collaboration and community at Thayer is like no other. This is a place where everyone knows your name and is willing to do everything to help you thrive. Each person—from the custodial staff to the dean—plays an important role in keeping our well-oiled machine running. Teamwork and a drive for excellence continue to fuel our successful ecosystem. I was sad to leave Thayer, but it was inevitable. Four members of my family attended my Investiture and were treated warmly. Professors sought out my family to congratulate them and eat lunch with us. Thayer will forever have a special place in my heart, especially because it was one of the last places I saw my father, who is now deceased. I am happy that I got a chance to share this special place with him, as my family walked through the Great Hall, peered into the machine shop, and marveled at the projects in Couch Lab. We ended the tour in M210, where my dad sat in my favorite spot, beaming from ear to ear.

It is with these sweet memories of Thayer and my unparalleled experience at Navigant that I march on to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to pursue my MBA. I view my academic journey as a three-legged stool. My engineering degree gave me a strong technical base (first leg), enabling me to solve problems innovatively. At Navigant I have developed expertise in how government policy (second leg) shapes the energy industry and helps to achieve aggressive national goals. The Wharton MBA will provide the third leg, from which I will acquire the necessary business acumen to help play an integral role in Africa’s energy transformation. I am incredibly grateful to Thayer for preparing me for the most responsible positions and the most difficult service, as I continue to make the world’s troubles my own. I’ll forever bleed green—I love Dartmouth!

Categories: Alumni News, Reflections

Tags: alumni, faculty, machine shop

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