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Celia Hallan

Celia Hallan, MA Geography Graduate 2019

What are your best memories of UCD?

In the spring, as the thesis-writing season really kicked off, several other geography students and I formed a little study group. We'd meet up all over - the library, classrooms, cafes - and work on our projects together. We laughed a lot and took a lot of tea breaks but ultimately kept each other accountable for making progress on our writing. I found some of my closest UCD friendships from that group. 

What first sparked your interest in Geography?

When I was in 9th grade (I believe that's "3rd Year" in Ireland), I took a class called Human Geography. My teacher was amazing. He made sure we knew that geography was much more than memorizing country names and state capitals. He showed us that geography links nature, politics, economics, and culture into powerful ways of seeing the world. We studied demographic change, urban development, climate change, food systems - all things that touched off my determination to work in sustainability. Most K-12 schools in the U.S. do not focus on geography; I consider myself extremely lucky to have had that class. 

What career path have you taken since graduating?

I finished my program in August 2019 and began working in the energy industry almost immediately. After a brief research consulting role with Ecobee, a manufacturer of smart thermostats, I took a Developer position with EDP Renewables. EDPR is a developer, owner, and operator of large-scale wind, solar, and battery storage projects. As a Developer, I work on all aspects of projects that are pre-construction, from identifying sites for new projects to interacting with members of the community and other stakeholders during permitting to supporting financial analyses and decision-making. 

How has your degree helped you along the way?

My degree taught me how to reconcile information from many different fields. That is critically important for renewable energy development, where the technical aspects of the projects play against different policy regimes, in different environmental contexts, with different social and economic conditions. My experience at UCD also helped me expand my GIS skills, which I use every day for spatial analysis and communication through cartography. I highly recommend that all current students take coursework in GIS. Finally, the flexibility of UCD's Geography program allowed me to focus my thesis research on wind energy development. This gave me a leg up in getting into the industry. I encourage all current students to take advantage of that flexibility and pursue research in the fields they are considering for careers.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

In my job, I really don't have a "typical day." The wind and solar projects I work on are all in different stages of development. Opportunities to advance or market the projects can come up very suddenly, so deadlines and priorities can change quickly. Knowing that every day is going to be different keeps the job interesting and challenging. Pre-pandemic, we also got to travel to our project sites frequently, which was wonderful for seeing new parts of the country and building face-to-face relationships with the communities where our projects will be constructed. On top of that, I am working in a field that I am deeply passionate about and that I believe is doing good, necessary work to benefit people and the planet. 

What is your proudest achievement to date?

Getting my M.A. from UCD! As an international student, choosing UCD was a big move for me and a big opportunity for personal and academic growth. After finishing the program, I submitted the research I did for my thesis to the journal Land Use Policy, and I am proud to say that it was published in 2020. If you are interested, it is available open-source here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264837719314607?dgcid=rss_sd_all

In my career, it has been working to improve our team's use of GIS. As a relatively advanced GIS user, I've been able to streamline, standardize, and even automate some processes, hold training events for my colleagues, and advocate for expanded access to and use of GIS across the company. 

Outside of my career, it has been learning outdoor skills and enjoying outdoor recreation. My longest backpacking trip to date is 30 miles over four days. Soon I am doing 35 miles over three days. One day, I hope to backpack the 300-mile Superior Hiking Trail in my home state of Minnesota.

What advice would you offer current students considering a similar career path? 

Read! All sustainability industries, and the renewable energy industry, in particular, are constantly changing. New technologies are developed, new regulations are passed, new companies are created, new research is published. There are many excellent news sources focused specifically on energy, water, food, and sustainable development. Seeking them out will help you identify the skills you need in the industry and will point you to emerging fields and opportunities. 

You can find Celia on LinkedIn.