Diversifying the Field of Energy and Environmental Economics Through Undergraduate Mentorships

December 8, 2023

The unequal burdens and benefits from environment, climate, and energy policies and programs are emerging as crucial areas of study in the field of Energy and Environmental Economics (EEE). While issues studied by EEE researchers increasingly address impacts on disadvantaged communities and communities of color, the field of researchers has relatively weak representation from women and very weak representation from people of color and disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. A key to increasing the breadth of research in these areas is addressing the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of scholars working on them.

The Energy Institute has a long track record of attracting and nurturing scholars interested in an energy and environmental economics (EEE) research agenda. Long-running programs target junior faculty and doctoral students across the country. Through these efforts it became clear that to really try to diversify the field, it was necessary to start at the undergraduate level. In 2021, EI partnered with the Berkeley Opportunity Lab (O-Lab), and received funding from the Sloan Foundation, to inaugurate a new program to mentor Berkeley undergraduates. In 2023 Sloan committed to fund an expansion of the program for three years. The EEE Undergraduate Mentoring Program aims to help underrepresented undergraduates envision and prepare for a PhD program in economics by providing training and mentoring. The program pairs undergraduates (UGs) with doctoral students actively doing research in the EEE field.

Mentors are chosen through a competitive application process that looks for their demonstrated experience in mentoring and the excellence of the research project on which they will have the mentees assist. The UG mentees are also chosen through a competitive process. No prior research experience is required. Instead, we look for UGs passionate about EEE and who may not have had many opportunities to engage in research.

The program is designed to help equip the UGs with the needed quantitative and qualitative skills and give them experience in active research projects, while receiving career and life mentoring from a diverse group of mentors. The program helps UGs envision the impact and satisfaction of a research career and the path to get there. These are experiences that the undergraduates cannot find in a classroom. More than one undergraduate has commented on how this program offers a rare opportunity to work with messy datasets from real world sources and learn how to handle, clean, and analyze this data – a very different experience than solving a homework problem with a curated dataset.

This year we began our third year with a full cohort of nine mentors and 18 mentees. Through bi-monthly group workshops, weekly mentor meetings, and occasional social gatherings we are nurturing a new network of diverse UGs who we hope will be inspired to pursue graduate degrees in EEE and contribute to solving some of the world’s most critical problems.

More information can be found here.