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GEM’s Gems July 2013 – Eric Van Orden

July 1, 2013

Eric Van Orden, a member of Cohort VII, is “Gem’s Gem” for July. Van Orden has truly made the most of his GEM education having taken both the GEM international elective course in London and the Washington DC elective course, attended numerous GEM Speaker Series events, and participated in Site Tours. He has also been featured multiple times in the GEM blog and was active on our social media sites.Eric Van Orden

“Many cohort weekends start off with a GEM-hosted welcome reception,” he said. “These receptions were a great opportunity for prospective and current students, along with GEM alumni, to mingle. I really enjoy attending them to keep in touch with fellow alumni and professors, as well as meet new students about to embark on an exciting 18-month journey.”

Van Orden, 31, says Cohort VII has earned a reputation for being an “interesting group.”

“Deadlines, late nights and a little stress will bring a group together,” he said. “When overcoming big challenges, like global energy issues, communication is critical. From the outside, it might sound like another language, but we learned to efficiently communicate with story graphics and one word hashtags.”

Van Orden was recently hired by Xcel Energy as both a Product Developer and a communications coordination lead in their Repowering Transportation initiative. For most of his career, he has worked alongside various representatives at Xcel Energy externally. When he took over as Executive Director of Energy Efficiency Business Coalition (EEBC), he regularly collaborated with the demand-side management regulatory and programmatic staff at Xcel Energy.

“As time went on, I really learned to appreciate the work that the team was doing at the company,” Van Orden said. “As I got closer to graduating, I utilized the GEM staff and alumni network to learn more about career opportunities at the company and directly attribute the GEM program for helping me to meet my strategic career objective by earning a position at Xcel Energy.”

 Briefly describe your current role and responsibilities.

I’m excited to have role in which I’ll be “wearing many hats.” My main responsibility is leading communications with various departments to implement Xcel Energy’s Repowering Transportation program, an initiative to support the adoption of natural gas and electric vehicle infrastructure solutions. I work with teams across the company, from engineering and field operations, marketing and community connection, to regulatory and policy. Additionally, I work with outside stakeholders to assist in market development for alternative fuel vehicles.

How has the GEM program benefited you and your company? Have you been promoted since you began the program?

Many of the classes in the GEM program are directly related to my day-to-day work. My final projects for Energy Marketing and Strategic planning were related to expanding business opportunities through natural gas and electric vehicles. This made for an easy transition into my new position at Xcel Energy.

Additionally, GEM helped to build on my existing knowledge of alternative energy through classes like Technical Aspects of Energy and Environmental, Regulatory, Legal & Political Environment in the Energy Industry. These classes were useful for some policy initiatives, where I coincidentally worked alongside other GEM students in a professional setting.

What were some of your favorite things to do during cohort weekends?

Many cohort weekends start off with a GEM-hosted welcome reception. These receptions were a great opportunity for prospective and current students, along with GEM alumni, to mingle. I really enjoy attending them to keep in touch with fellow alumni and professors, as well as meet new students about to embark on an exciting 18 month journey.

What were some of the things that you never forget to bring to cohort weekends?

The desire to debate, collaborate, and negotiate.

Please share a story about GEM that will entertain other students.

Apparently Cohort 7 earned a reputation for being an “interesting group.” Deadlines, late nights and a little stress will bring a group together. When overcoming big challenges, like global energy issues, communication is critical. From the outside, it might sound like another language, but we learned to efficiently communicate with story graphics and one word hashtags.

Why did you choose the GEM program at CU Denver?

I looked at several other graduate programs geared toward business and engineering, but my main interest was in learning more about the energy industry. These general classes offered by other programs didn’t capture my interest the way GEM’s program did. GEM’s Master of Science pairs the business aspect with engineering into one unique degree, all while incorporating energy industry specific content into each lesson.

Additionally, the hybrid learning style was effective for networking during the quarterly weekends, but also flexible on a weekly basis. This was important for the practical realities of managing a busy work and life schedule.

Has GEM changed your perspective? If so, how so?

Absolutely! After a few years of having a career in alternative energy, including renewable energy and energy efficiency, I applied for GEM with an interest in understanding the other side of the energy business including oil, gas and utilities. I quickly learned the “other side” that I mentioned isn’t the “other side” at all. The energy industry is complex and all inclusive. Prior to GEM, I had mostly worked in small, American, regional markets with emerging energy technologies. Many of the professors had international professional experience and were actually teaching from outside the country. Additionally, the London class trip introduced me in global energy leaders in finance, operations, and policy. After graduating, the education, personal connections and practical experience provided by GEM helped me to understand the bigger picture interaction of different industries, policy makers and consumer demands across the world.

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