On Thursday, March 31, Jeremy Koo ’12, a Distributed Energy Resources and Electrification Associate at Cadmus Group, spoke with energy-interested students about his unique career pathway to technical consultancy. The talk, which took place in the Science Center, was part of the Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Development’s 2022 Alumni-in-Residence Program.
Koo’s work at Cadmus, an international, mission-driven strategic and technical consulting firm dedicated to advancing social good, focuses heavily on energy. In his talk, which was lauded by student attendees, Koo discussed the value of public-private partnerships and the power of a liberal arts education, among other topics.
Koo began the presentation by reminiscing on his days at Amherst as a young scholar.
Hailing from San Diego, Koo came to Amherst in September 2008 with a rough plan to go through 15 departments in his first two years’ worth of classes and, like any San Diegan, a reluctant readiness for Massachusetts’ notorious snowy winters. “It really started with ‘So what the hell do I want to major in?’ when I got to Amherst,” said Koo. “One of the attractions of Amherst was the open curriculum,” he said, attributing his well-rounded intellectual growth to the freedom to experiment, taking classes from different disciplines.
“The only thing that I really knew that I wanted to do was sing a capella when I got here.” Koo joined The Zumbyes in his first year and maintained his membership for the rest of his time at Amherst.
In his senior year, Koo declared a double major in music and environmental studies and wrote a thesis in music composition before graduating with a career-choice question: “So what the hell do I do with my life?”
Koo said that, after a period working as a graduate assistant in the music department and then an assistant director of Amherst College Choral Society, he decided to turn towards his other major: environmental studies, and applied to be an intern at Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
“Despite how much I admired my professors, I would not say that they really got a bead on where the industry was at that time,” Koo said. Nonetheless Koo found that “[my] generalist approach to things and [my] mindset to learn quickly and adapt to different challenges” was extremely useful, especially once he moved to intern at Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) in 2013.
NESEA was a Greenfield non-profit working to “to help coordinate what had … been a nascent niche group of green-home builders to slowly develop a field of practitioners.” At NESEA, he eventually became a coordinator facilitating programs on sustainability and the built environment. After a search of over 500 companies within the NESEA network, Koo moved to Meister, a small, Boston-based consulting firm. The firm was later acquired by Cadmus Group, where Koo has continued to work.
In 2017, Koo became a senior analyst at Cadmus, where he now works as an associate.
While “some consultants are a little bit like management consultants where they work 100 percent on individual long-term projects,” Koo is “on six to eight projects at the same time,” and manages about half of them.
Koo commented on the unpredictability of consulting. “Unfortunately, consulting is hardly a 40-hour-work week … I usually work around 44-ish hours,” Koo said. “You can’t really control clients … Sometimes, governments will just decide: ‘Hey, we need to spend all this money by this date. Please respond to this request by sending in a 20-page bid on why we should hire you to develop a strategy by next week!’”
Koo was also surprised by the amount of writing that he had to undertake as a consultant. He cites his work on reports, client communication, and presentations as places where an Amherst education came in handy.
He credited his time at Amherst for introducing him to the idea of working with the public sector through readings and group discussions from his environmental studies class. “I learned that there’s either ‘working for’ or ‘working with’ the public sector,” said Koo. Governments frequently work with the private sector; “The government doesn’t have staff on hand to be able to install solar,” Koo said. “Governments lack in-house technical expertise … As a result, most governments fill in these capacities using a public procurement process that brings in private energy consulting firms to perform that work and avoid creating permanent positions.”
Koo assured students that their future hard-earned liberal arts degree will have practical applications.
In delivering his analysis of Amherst’s role in preparing him for the professional world, Koo stated that, while the college did not provide him with tangible subject-matter knowledge and technical skill sets, it exposed him to a wide range of environmental issues and gave him diverse perspectives for approaching problems and developing solutions, as well as a reasonable writing ability. “Courses at Amherst that emphasized how to frame and approach complex problems from multidisciplinary perspectives have been most valuable for developing strategic approaches to addressing my client needs,” Koo said.
Contemplating the energy and utility consulting services industry in the next five years, Koo asserted that climate action is at a critical point. “By 2030, we’ll hit a major milestone for many governments engaged in climate action. [There are] unlikely to be magic bullets that solve our problems — only complicated answers to a complicated problem. However, the industry is growing, with increasing investment and dependency on public and private sector leadership. It is certain to me that there are a lot more opportunities to grow within the energy and sustainability space.”
Koo concluded his presentation with words of advice on career paths. “I was super anxious about entering the workforce without a clear career trajectory like other of my friends did. It took a while for me to finally realize it was okay to not know [firsthand] what you want to do. The rest of your life is a long time,” shared Koo. “It is okay to come out of school and just want to explore and try out different sectors and not feel like you have figured out what path in life you want to stay committed to eventually.” Koo advised students to not limit themselves into any one particular field too soon.
In his closing remarks, Koo emphasized the importance of finding something that gives us enough joy and hassles that we tolerate enough. “It is great that a job can be your passion,” said Koo. “But a job can also just be a job.”
In the Q&A section, Sushan Bharratai ’24 asked: “How equitable do you think the change in serving renewable energy is?”
In response, Koo explained that “There’s a lot of issues right now with equity. For better or for worse, we’re not as far as where we need to be on the point of global energy.” Koo cited policy in states such as New York, whose recent climate legislation sets aside interest revenue from new energy policy for low-income communities. “I have been working particularly with policymakers and New York staff since 2015,” Koo said, “The question that they’re asking went from ‘How do we get these technologies?’ to ‘How do we get these technologies into homes so people can afford them?’ The questions are shifting.”
“Such an insightful presentation by Jeremy Koo,” said Micah Owino, Program Director for Careers in Government and Nonprofits at the Loeb Center. “He successfully illustrated how public and private partnerships can positively impact society.”