The Bridge - Issue 2, 2020 - 27

Student Profile

Student Profile

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Michael Lau
Michael (Mike) Lau, is a recent graduate of Santa
Clara University in Electrical Engineering, with a
minor in Political Science. During his undergraduate
career, he has balanced a dual focus on Electrical
Engineering and Politics at both Santa Clara University
and the University of Oxford, specializing in power
systems, international relations, and energy policy for
accelerated renewable integration and energy system
decarbonization. He has held summer internships
with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,
working on the integration of magnetic and inertial
confinement in nuclear fusion, and the Latimer Energy
Laboratory at Santa Clara University, which he credits
with directing his interest in decarbonization toward
renewable integration. Outside of coursework and
internships, he enjoys volunteering with a variety
of organizations focusing on green activism and
sustainable international development, including
Santa Clara's BLEGIT environmental advocacy and
divestment group, Bronco Urban Gardens, and the
Cambridge Development Initiative. During his time
at university, he also worked part-time tutoring fellow
students in a variety of math, science and engineering
topics. His primary interest going forward is in the
development of technologically informed policy for
accelerated implementation of grid-scale storage to
aid in decarbonizing efforts in the energy sector, and
he is applying to several master's programs in hopes
of further pursuing this interest. He enjoys a variety
of leisure activities, including cooking, chess and
exploring the outdoors.


Back in January 2019, a group of IEEE members
from my chapter in Santa Clara and I got together to
volunteer at a community center nearby - providing
an interactive science experience for elementary and
middle school students from a nearby neighborhood.
We arrived early, setting up the required materials for
our presentation and 'experiment' while the students
all trickled in to the classroom. On that particular day,
we were building mini-hovercrafts made from a CD,
the nozzle of a plastic water bottle, and balloons. After
setting up and explaining the principles involved to the
kids, we put them into groups and told them to try
making the hovercrafts. Five minutes later, no one had
successfully managed to make a working hovercraft
even with the help of the IEEE volunteers. Eventually
we figured out that instead of buying normal balloons,
we'd accidentally purchased twisting balloons for
making balloon animals! After much trying, the room
had descended into chaos-kids running around
and making the balloons fly everywhere-but we
had one successful hovercraft! We called it a day
after that. In the end though, I think we had a positive
impact, teaching the kids a lesson they'll never forget
about the importance of the testing phase
in engineering design.

Why did you choose to study the
engineering field?
I actually came into my undergrad declared as a
Political Science major, fully intending to focus on
international environmental policy specializing in the
reduction of carbon emissions. After my first two
quarters though, I had realized that in order to make
the impact I wanted to on this issue, I had to have
a deep understanding of the technologies available
and the technical obstacles to substantially decreased
emissions in the energy sector. This realization led me
to internally transfer to the School of Engineering at
the end of my first year, and I'm grateful that I made
that decision. I believe that having a comprehensive
(or as close to comprehensive as one can possibly
have) understanding of the various technical, political,
social, and economic factors at play in any field is key
to determining how best to deal with any issue in
a considered way. While this is never fully possible,

having an engineering background helps substantially
in providing working scientific and technological
knowledge of your area of specialization - as well as
providing the skills necessary to decipher technical
papers and documentation to further expand that
knowledge going forward.

What do you love about engineering?
I very much enjoy the problem-solving process
and watching mathematical approximations translate
directly to the real world.

reduce emissions, but I had no way to ensure that they
would be used correctly or as efficiently as I would like;
technical innovation is, after all, essentially the creation
of more and better tools. Thus, I turned to policy, where
I could help decide how the tools available are used
to counter climate change - with an understanding of
the limitations and advantages of the tools given by my
time in electrical engineering. Essentially, I see policy as
the best way to make the greatest difference I can.

What is the next BIG advance in engineering?
In my field, at least, I think the next big advance in
engineering will be in the reduction in cost and rare
earth metals consumption of renewable energy
sources and storage technologies, which would both
increase the adoption of renewables and aid in solving
the associated resource problem.

Michael Lau showcases his work at poster competition.

What is your dream job?
I aim to meaningfully contribute to international efforts
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing
obstacles to grid transition through policy on any scale.
Within this field, I specifically aim to impact two areas:
the adoption of grid-scale storage and system net
load adjustment through demand-side manipulation.
Both of these, I believe, are ideally influenced through
policy adjustments and incentives. Furthermore, I
aspire to contribute to international cooperation on
decarbonization within the energy sector. Thus my
dream job would be as a policy analyst and researcher
with either an energy policy think tank, like E3G or
Element Energy, or a governmental agency to bring an
interdisciplinary engineer's perspective to energy policy
development and grid transition incentivization.

What made you interested in public
policy/volunteer work?
For a long time, I've been passionate about making
a difference in climate change. When I was deciding
which field would best allow me to make the
greatest impact, I was torn between engineering and
policy. I realized that if I continued down the path of
engineering, I may be making the tools that allow us to

What is the most important thing
you've learned in school?
Probably that no single narrative or picture is ever
complete. Especially in engineering, we have a
tendency to believe that our study of one topic or
subject provides the "truth." But, especially when we
step out of the pure calculations of engineering and
into the human world where our work is needed and
applied, truth is complex. In light of this, I think that
the most important skill I've learned in school is to
listen, critique and incorporate the lived experience and
theoretical understandings of diverse people and fields
in my own worldview and academic perspective.

What advice would you give to other
students entering college and considering
studying your major?
I would advise other students, especially engineers,
to seriously study the humanities and social sciences
in addition to their engineering degrees. While
engineering provides important design skills, it doesn't
and can't tell you how to apply them in a considered
fashion to the world around us - nor does it provide
the political and social understandings we need to
make well-informed judgements. So, diversify. Pursue
your passions, and learn as much about the way the
world works as you can.



The Bridge - Issue 2, 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Bridge - Issue 2, 2020

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