Humans of Fung: Sydney Holgado, MEng ’21 (CEE/Renewable Energy Systems)

On her MEng capstone experience and how it influenced her engineering career and leadership goals.

Sydney Holgado is a double bear* who studied Civil and Environmental Engineering with a focus on Renewable Energy Systems and recently graduated from Berkeley MEng. Here she shares how leadership and fostering connection within MEng impacted her current role at Buro Happold.

*A double bear is a UC Berkeley graduate who has returned to pursue their graduate degree

Can you share what your capstone project was about? What was your role within your capstone team?

My capstone project was titled GridMod: Decarbonizing the Energy Sector through Cost-Effective Electric Grid Modernization and my team consisted of myself and another civil & environmental engineer, a mechanical engineer, and an industrial engineer. Our goal was to use a data driven approach to show that transitioning to cleaner energy infrastructure is not only necessary but economical. We built a tool that takes historical weather, pricing and electricity demand data, and produces optimal electric grid configurations that maximize renewable energy use while minimizing system costs. The preliminary results were very promising. Our tool will be implemented to inform policy decisions and investment in projects that could save billions in annual system costs for regional electric grids, while employing a higher percentage of renewables to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. My teammates and I rotated roles throughout the year so we each had a chance to be the team leader, project manager, data manager, and point of contact. I worked mainly on data acquisition and cleaning, and developing an analytical representation of our tool and its algorithms.

How did your capstone experience prepare you for your current role?

Before starting my capstone project, I thought for sure that I would end up working on water resource management systems. I applied to work on my capstone project because it sounded unique, not expecting to become so invested in the energy sector itself. The experience showed me that I enjoy working on a wide range of topics, and luckily I get to do so in my current role.

I currently work for an engineering and consulting firm in New York City tackling sustainable urban development projects. One thing that’s proven particularly useful from my capstone experience has been thinking through projects at different scales — whether I’m working on something at a specific site or conducting city-wide analysis. For my capstone project, our work had implications at the federal level, but we were building our model from the ground up so we had to think about everything from a single solar panel to the whole country’s energy infrastructure. Identifying a specific scope and balancing a big picture understanding with attention to detail was something I practiced through trial and error in my capstone project. Also, I now tend to work on projects based across North America, and working remotely with collaborators and stakeholders in different time zones was a critical part of my capstone experience that has prepared me for my current role.

How has MEng prepared you for leadership?

As I mentioned, my team and I rotated through the team leader role throughout the year. Not only did we each get a chance to lead the team, we were able to experience one another’s leadership and following styles back to back. This helped us learn firsthand how to tailor leadership and communication styles to suit individual needs. For example, as a leader I tend to be detail oriented, and when being led, I appreciate receiving thorough instructions as part of a well developed plan. Another team member might instead value big picture ideas and give open ended guidance as a leader, and feel micromanaged if given too much direction as a follower. One style isn’t inherently superior, and throughout the project I started to learn to appreciate when certain approaches might be better than others.

“Working with [my Berkeley MEng] capstone team from various academic and personal backgrounds has helped me in transitioning to a professional engineering environment.”

Sarah Gunasekera (MEng, ME), Helen Chen (MTM), Elliott Suen (MEng, CEE), Ishan Tikku (MEng, IEOR), Sydney Holgado (MEng, CEE), Diego Espinoza (MEng, BioE), Ruila Puskas-Juhasz (MEng, IEOR)

How did working with a capstone team help prepare you for professional engineering environments?

Working with a capstone team from various academic and personal backgrounds has helped me in transitioning to a professional engineering environment. It was such a great learning experience to collaborate with other students with a depth of technical knowledge different from my own and to learn to communicate effectively with each other despite our differences. Not only that, we were also working toward a final deliverable with a set due date on top of our already busy schedules and with the team spread across multiple time zones. This is pretty much what I’m faced with in my current role every day, so having experienced this in my capstone project, I felt prepared.

Did connections made within the MEng program help you launch or accelerate in your current career?

Yes absolutely! Through boot camps and classes and the capstone project, I was able to work closely with so many brilliant people in my MEng cohort who became valuable connections but also great friends. I was lucky enough to find myself in long conversations with classmates, rambling on about our interests and bouncing ideas off of one another and discussing potential career paths. My peers were able to point me toward roles I might like to pursue, or potential contacts in my field, all while being in the same boat of trying to figure out our plans for after graduation.

How did your industry partner influence your career goals?

For our project, my team partnered with the Post Road Foundation, a research non-profit that works to reduce capacity barriers to the development and funding of sustainable infrastructure. My industry advisor Seth Hoedl was incredibly supportive both in my job application process and in helping me establish larger career goals. I admire Post Road’s dedication to thinking critically about how to deploy sustainable technology equitably, and I hope to work on more projects that have a positive environmental and social impact.

Connect with Sydney Holgado.

Edited by Ella Rochelle-Lawton.

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Berkeley Master of Engineering

Berkeley Master of Engineering

Master of Engineering at UC Berkeley with a focus on leadership. Learn more about the program through our publication.