Dan York

(’87), AMERICAN COUNCIL FOR AN ENERGY-EFFICIENT ECONOMY

EAP alumnus Dan York has a longstanding interest in energy policy. “I was a student in high school during the 1970s energy crises,” he said. The crises “had a big impact on me…. The more I learned about different environmental problems of the day the more they pointed back toward energy.”

Following high school, Dan first enrolled as an undergraduate student at Northland College — a small liberal arts college in Ashland, Wisconsin — to pursue a degree in environmental studies. While Dan loved his coursework, he realized that having a technical background would be essential to understanding high-level energy policy, so despite some “misgivings” about switching to a hard science degree, Dan transferred to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities to study mechanical engineering.

That was a big change, Dan said, commenting on transferring from a college with a few hundred students to a university with several thousand. “Some physics classes were bigger than all of Northland College,” he said. Dan may have been a bit overwhelmed during his first semester at Minnesota, but he said the technical skills he gained have definitely paid off. “The people in my field that really do some of the best work often do have a more technical background… It really comes in handy,” he explained.

One of Dan’s favorite outdoor adventures is kayaking in the Grand Canyon. (Photo courtesy of Dan York.)

Dan said he always knew that grad school was in his future, but he chose to work as an engineer in Kansas City for a year following his graduation from the University of Minnesota. Dan is an advocate for taking time off between undergraduate and graduate careers. “I think [my gap year] was very important. If nothing else, it convinced me I wasn’t going to be a good engineer!” he said, laughing. “I’m a big fan of having a little time off and coming back at it with a real purpose.” Dan believes that students who take “a gap year or years, whatever it winds up being” are more focused in graduate school. He adds that these students are often more valuable to employers after they obtain their degrees, too. “I think just having some actual job experiences really makes somebody stand out,” he said.

Left to right: Dan York, EAP alumna Jeanette LeZaks, and retired EAP professor Wes Foell engage in group discussion at the 2015 EAP breakfast.

While working as a mechanical engineer, Dan started shopping for Ph.D. programs. “I really wanted to find some kind of program that would be policy-focused and interdisciplinary,” he said. “I was happy to find that UW–Madison had such a program…. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for.” Dan enrolled as a graduate student at UW–Madison in 1985 and finished his Master of Science degree in Land Resources (now Environment & Resources) and Energy Analysis & Policy in 1987. Dan chose to continue his studies for another four years and graduated with a Ph.D. in Land Resources in 1991.

As a graduate student, Dan had the opportunity to study abroad in Norway, an experience he said “definitely” shaped how he views the role of energy in our society. “Every country’s facing different energy problems,” said Dan. “[International experiences] force you to both look at your own situation… and see how others approach some of the same problems.”

Map of Europe, with Norway shown in orange. (Photo courtesy of mapssite.blogspot.com)

Dan’s interest in Norway’s development of offshore oil resources motivated him to apply for an 8-week program at the University of Oslo’s International Summer School (ISS) as a doctoral student. To his delight, he was accepted, along with students from 74 other countries. Dan spent the summer studying energy and the environment, focusing on problems pertaining to developing countries. Dan returned to Norway the following year as a Fulbright Fellow. He first worked as a graduate researcher for six months at the University of Oslo and then accepted a six-month position as a consultant with the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Administration.

While Dan is still interested in international energy issues, today he is primarily focused on studying energy problems facing the United States. Dan is currently a fellow with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), an energy efficiency and conservation think tank. ACEEE works to influence national, state and local policies in an effort to move the U.S. toward a more efficient and sustainable energy future.

Dan sees ACEEE as a key player in discussions of domestic energy issues, one that is trusted by both industry and environmental organizations. Dan likes working for ACEEE because he believes that energy efficiency is not a partisan issue. “The nice thing about energy efficiency is that I can create a whole list of very liberal reasons why it’s a good idea, but energy efficiency and conservation is also a conservative thing… you can have all kinds of conservative reasons why it’s a very good thing to do,” Dan said. “I like it because we’re focused on practical results and having significant impacts on policy and programs across the country. I think we have been very effective.”

As a fellow at ACEEE, Dan is focused on researching and developing programs and policies that affect electric gas and utility operations and support energy efficiency programs serving their customers. One of Dan’s favorite projects  is working  to expand and improve efficiency programs serving multi-family building owners and households. He finds this type of work “very rewarding.”

Dan believes the training he received through the EAP program helped him build his career as an energy analyst. The skills he learned “immediately came into play” in his first job after grad school. When asked if Dan had any advice for future EAPers, Dan mentioned the importance of developing strong communication skills. “We need people who are good at communications. There’s a much bigger emphasis on just getting more effective messages out there. There’s a huge push for behavior change.”

Dan and EAP professor Tracey Holloway take notes during the group discussion at the 2015 EAP breakfast.

Dan is excited to work more closely with EAP alumni and friends in the months ahead as leader of the alumni planning committee, a small group of EAPers dedicated to brainstorming new ways to grow and support the EAP program. Dan wants to ensure that future EAP students have access to the same kind of rigorous, interdisciplinary education and study abroad experiences in energy analysis that helped him launch his career. If you’d like to get involved, please feel free to send a note to Dan at dwyork@aceee.org.