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UNC Clean Tech Summit ignited conversations about the future of sustainability

A peek down the hallway of Koury Auditorium, where the Kenan-Flagler Business School will celebrate its centennial with a time capsule event on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 from 12 to 1 p.m.
Buy Photos A peek down the hallway of Koury Auditorium, where the Kenan-Flagler Business School will celebrate its centennial with a time capsule event on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 from 12 to 1 p.m.

Campus community members interested in the future of sustainability gathered at the UNC Clean Tech Summit, which took place on Feb. 20 and Feb. 21. 

The annual conference was co-hosted by the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and the UNC Institute for the Environment, and included a variety of panelists who specialized in subjects ranging from coastal sustainability to energy production. 

“We bring people from industry, government and academia — especially students — together to hopefully accelerate innovation, to show students career paths, to connect students with jobs,” Greg Gangi, professor and associate director for Clean Technology and Innovation, said. 

Gangi said this conference illuminates a range of environmental issues, which society will need to deal with in the coming years. 

“The thing that it does so well is bring in people interested in clean technology ... but they all fit together really well under this umbrella of smart things we can do to live in a way that makes more sense in a changing world,” Michael Piehler, professor and director of UNC Institute for the Environment, said.

The Clean Tech Summit places a special emphasis on students' learning, regardless of their individual interests. 

“If you’re really interested in technology and saving the earth, it’s pretty interesting," Ani Arvind, a first-year student majoring in computer science and business administration, said after attending Thursday’s session. "There’s a bunch of different things you can learn.”

Over the course of the two-day conference, students had the opportunity to engage with experts and leaders through a career fair and mentor program, which matched students with a relevant industry professional. 

“Many students have had life changing encounters there," Gangi said. "Some leading to a job or internship or just advice that they took to heart."

Gangi said he prioritized including a variety of perspectives within the conference when inviting professionals. 

“We make a concerted effort to do it in a nonpartisan way," Gangi said. "We always make sure to include lots of Republicans, we’ve been very successful at that. We’ve had buy in from both sides of the aisle, which is very rare in society today." 

Organizers of the conference said they hope to continue the event's legacy of providing students with an opportunity to explore the future of clean technology. 

"The thing that to me is remarkable about it is that it’s really technically current and really rigorous in terms of the technical information that’s presented, but it has not lost its direct connection to the students," Pieler said.

There are multiple conferences discussing clean technology, but Pieler said the Clean Tech Summit was one of the first and remains one of the largest. 

"I think that is something that our University does really well and that this summit is a great manifestation of that," he said. "The harnessing of the research venture for the benefit of the undergraduate students.” 

@chiaraeevans

university@dailytarheel.com

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