There are several great ways for students to get involved in the important work of developing more affordable technologies that can help protect the environment. Whether a student’s interests lie in engineering, business, policy, or community organizing, they have opportunities to contribute to solutions.
One of the best starting points is for students to take relevant coursework in their areas of study that relates directly to environmental technologies. For engineering students, courses in fields like sustainable design, renewable energy systems, environmental monitoring, green chemistry and more can provide valuable technical foundations. For business students, classes on social entrepreneurship, financing green startups, and eco-friendly product development are highly applicable. Policy and legal studies majors may consider seminars on environmental regulation and legislation. No matter the specific major, classes that blend topics like science, technology, business and policy give hands-on perspectives on bringing new ideas to market.
Students should also consider doing internships or research assistant positions at organizations developing affordable eco-tech. National labs, innovative startups, non-profits, and some larger corporations offer openings for undergraduate and graduate students to gain real-world experience. Interning at the National Renewable Energy Lab, for instance, could provide exposure to their work advancing next-generation solar panels and energy storage. Working for a startup commercializing affordable water filters or efficient cookstoves might involve assisting prototype tests and sustainability assessments. Non-governmental groups develop low-cost environmental monitoring devices, so interning could support those projects. Such experiential learning opportunities allow students to apply classroom knowledge and make valuable industry connections.
Many colleges today have green labs, makerspaces, incubators or multidisciplinary design studios where students can launch their own technology projects. These facilitated environments give resources and guidance for conceptualizing, prototyping and testing ideas. For example, engineering undergraduates led a project through their university lab to engineer a low-cost system for monitoring drainage water quality using open-source hardware and software. A business program’s incubator may support student teams commercializing their senior capstone designs for affordable water sensors. Innovating independently or collaboratively in such settings lets students gain entrepreneurial experience bringing concepts from ideation to functional prototypes.
Students can also engage through extracurricular clubs and competitions focused on environmental innovation. Groups like Engineers Without Borders facilitate student participation in international projects installing renewable energy or clean water systems in developing communities. Annual contests hosted by entities such as the US Department of Energy’s Collegiate Inventors Challenge provides funding and mentorship for undergraduate and graduate teams to advance early-stage energy technologies. Winning affordable technology proposals could lead to further research support. Extra-academic activities cultivate passion-based learning and offer additional pathways towards commercializing eco-friendly solutions.
Beyond hands-on projects, some other impactful roles for students include advocacy, community science, and policy research. Participating in campus environmental groups or lobbying legislators on tech-centered bills pertains skills in organizing and democratic processes. Volunteering time to community science initiatives deploying low-cost air/water quality sensors or conducting citizen science education spreads awareness. Conducting policy research for think tanks and writing reports with evidence-based recommendations to decision-makers shapes guidance. Non-technical contributions still advance causes around sustainable innovations.
Dedicated and creative students have growing opportunities to drive the development and adoption of eco-friendly solutions through many pathways. Course selections, internships, independent projects, extracurricular involvement and civic roles all provide avenues. With passion and persistence, the next generation will play a defining part in realizing more affordable environmental technologies benefiting people worldwide. Committing time and effort towards those aims as a student sets one up well to meaningfully advance solutions into careers after graduation.