Erica Bjelland ’16
Majors: Global Studies and Environmental Studies

Bjelland was named a winner of the American Conservation Coalition’s 30 Under 30: The Green Generation, a project that recognizes the hard work and dedication young adults have for environmentalism and pursuing environmental change. All the 30 Under 30 winners gather for a day of panels and events at the EarthX in Dallas.

Where do you work and what is your position?

I work at the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL), a Minnesota nonprofit that works internationally to fight energy poverty with solar power. We work with low-income families and communities to install solar systems to reduce energy costs. We also offer solar education and workforce development trainings in partnership with the communities we work with. During my time at RREAL, I have been part of integrating solar into the federal Energy Assistance Program, collaborating with Habitat for Humanity affiliates, and working internationally with the Women of the ELCA on projects in Liberia, South Sudan, Zambia, and Uganda. I started at RREAL as an AmeriCorps VISTA after I graduated from Concordia and I was hired as a program development specialist after my service was complete.

Fun fact: RREAL installed the solar portion of the solar high tunnel at Concordia.

What does an average day look like for you?

Each day can look very different, which I love. Some days I am out doing solar education in schools or presenting to a community group about energy poverty. Other days I am diligently working on grants, events, fundraising, communications, and collaborating with my team and our partners. It’s incredible to work with a team with such diverse skills. We have engineers, teachers, construction workers, electricians, and project managers all working together. I feel like I am always learning something new from each person about solar, nonprofits, the world, and even personal values.

How did it feel learning you were a winner of the 30 Under 30: A Green Generation?

I had no idea I was even being considered for this, so I definitely didn’t think it was real when I found out. I am very grateful to be part of a group of young people from across the U.S. doing great environmental work. I am excited that recognition like this exists since important climate action is increasingly being led by youth across the globe and that needs to be celebrated!

What are you most looking forward to at EarthX 2019?

I am most excited to meet the other 30 Under 30 winners. It sounds like there are several people doing really incredible environmental work that I would love to meet and collaborate with.

What advice do you have for Cobbers about sustainable living?

Drastic changes to the way we live are needed to slow climate change, which is terrifying, so find community in “being green” to make a change. I think it’s easy to get caught up in being the trendiest “green” person in every little thing we do (recycling, composting, reusable straws, etc.). All those actions are important, but I think it is even more important for changes like that on a community and policy level. I found great value in the Student Environmental Alliance, EcoHouse, EcoReps, and environmental studies communities at Concordia, and I continue to find value in fostering similar community relations in postgrad life.

Anything else we should know?

I am grateful for my liberal arts education at Concordia. I gained skills to know how to question and disseminate the knowledge that is available to us in the media and literally all over. I continue to be humbled by all that I don’t know about the world, so I know those lifelong BREW skills will always be essential.