Coronavirus Updates

Seeing dead fish on a beach after an oil spill. Realizing the need for climate-resistant infrastructure to treat waste in India. Wanting a seat at the table when decisions that impact the climate are made.

Their paths were different, but climate-related issues are a common passion for the three University of Chicago Booth School of Business students who participated in this year’s international climate change conference convened by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai as part of a University of Chicago student delegation.

The three second-year MBA students—Kelsey French, Mohit Jindal, and Ramya Polavarapu—shared insights from the conference and spoke about how Booth is helping shape their career paths. Below are some excerpts.

What led to your interest in climate change?

Ramya: When I was nine, I saw tiny dead fish washed up all along the beach in Dubai. They were collateral damage from an oil spill. Seeing that led me to be involved in environment-related activities, including turning around a firm that does environmental-impact assessments for large infrastructure and industrial projects.

Mohit: The Gates Foundation constructed millions of toilets in India, but 40 to 50 percent of the waste in the country is untreated. We needed climate-resilient infrastructure to treat the waste because cities faced both floods and droughts. That got me started. I wanted to understand mitigation and investing. When I came to Booth, I wanted to get into impact investing and go all in on climate.

Kelsey: Climate is the most critical, universal, and tangible problem facing the world today. I started my career working for environmental nonprofits as an undergraduate student but saw that those organizations were often not at the table where the key decisions were being made. That led me to enter the energy industry and work on complex projects that seek to simultaneously navigate commodity volatility, reduce energy poverty around the world, and address decarbonization. The industry has evolved tremendously in the past 10 years, but I hope to lead the sector in making better investment decisions that are informed by the full risks and costs to society.

What was it like to be at COP28?

Mohit: It was like going into a superstore where everything is about climate. It was amazing to speak in-depth with founders, who are usually very busy people, and to interact with people in the Indian climate change community. It felt like a global congregation of people where everyone was trying to do something different.

Ramya: It gave insight into a lot of big-picture questions and into promising technologies. I met people who I hope to reach out to as mentors and as sounding boards for ideas.

Kelsey: In many ways, it felt like a “climate change Disneyland.” The energy was high, and there was extensive breadth and depth of technology coverage. A big focus was on nearer-term technologies, like reducing agriculture and global methane emissions, renewable generation project financing, and energy efficiency in buildings. It was neat to see a snapshot of perspectives from all the players—from founders to heads of industry to policymakers.

What were your top takeaways from the conference?

Kelsey: Everyone is on the same page about the urgency and legitimacy of climate change—including traditional oil and gas firms. This is a massive change from what I saw in climate delegations as recently as 2018. It was also cool to see how similar solutions are being developed in different corners of the world. For example, I met someone who runs a startup that does top-down portfolio evaluation of carbon intensity for banks in India—and the next day, I met someone else who is building a similar solution in the US. Over time, people are likely to reach across international borders to share. For now, it is interesting to see the library of work.

Mohit: I connected with the sharp focus on cutting down methane emissions from gas. Attending COP28 also helped me cultivate a mental model to understand the tailwinds behind every opportunity. For example, there are different ways to cut methane emissions. If I can see where movement is happening, I can see how it flows into regulations in different countries, and that flows into investing opportunities.

Ramya: I’m interested in the green hydrogen space. COP28 gave a great overview of how some of the largest companies in the world are looking at the future. For example: How sustainable is it to store carbon in empty shale underground reservoirs? I also saw a missing link in climate finance. There are interesting ideas in search of financing, and there is finance in search of the right ideas.

How does Booth support your interest in climate change?

Mohit: Booth is the best-kept secret in terms of supporting careers in climate. It has a strong relationship with Impact Engine, where I’m now working to understand impact investing. Booth alumni working in climate are very helpful and so is Polsky Deep Tech Ventures. I’m excited about UChicago’s EPIC and the Climate Lab. I’m also taking a lab to launch class with Professor Jason Blumberg, where he talks about cleantech.

Ramya: Booth classes like the Political Economy of Climate Change gave me in-depth understanding into policy debates. I learned a lot by participating in an energy case competition on battery storage. I’m focusing on environmental sustainability startups for the student-run Steven Tarrson Impact Investing Fund and looking forward to taking the Navigating the ESG Landscape class.

Kelsey: Booth classes helped elevate my thinking—like Professor Chris Wheat’s The Political Economy of Climate Change and Professor Christian Leuz’s Navigating the ESG Landscape. Booth’s Polsky Center also helped me get unique experiences, including a climate tech investing internship at Earth Foundry and commercialization internship for Argonne National Lab’s researchers developing sodium-ion batteries. During my summer, I worked with a private equity firm where I led an investment in a nickel mining services company to serve EV [electric-vehicle] battery demand—Booth’s finance coursework prepared me to succeed in that role. But the most impact has come from my interactions with peers at Booth Energy Group events, including the incredible spring Booth Energy Forward Conference, where discussions between alumni and current students across the climate space are held.

How do you plan to continue being involved with climate change issues?

Ramya: I’m looking for opportunities in the green hydrogen space and to build on the connections that I made at COP28. And I plan to pay it forward to other Booth MBAs interested in the climate space by sharing insights and making introductions.

Mohit: I want to stay with the early stage of climate innovations, as an impact investor or in operations at a startup.

Kelsey: I am returning to McKinsey’s Global Energy & Materials Practice. I plan to focus on carbon credit markets and decarbonization strategy for oil and gas companies.

Email icon

Get Updates from the Rustandy Center

Please send me updates on social impact events, programs, and research at Chicago Booth.

Get Updates from the Rustandy Center