Leyline Capital is a renewable energy financing company that is partnering with BlackOak to bring more Black students and professionals into the sector. Their Renewable Energy Externship at Leyline (REAAL) program provides college students with hands-on work experience and an entry-point into renewable energy finance work.
Mindy Dunn is a 2022 alumna of the REAAL program and a student at NC State majoring in Environmental Technology and Management with a minor in renewable energy assessment. Before transferring to NC State, she received her associate’s degree from Durham Technical Community College. Our interview highlights her experience working with Leyline Capital and insights for how more young people can get involved in the renewable finance sector!
How did you become interested in renewable energy?
I’ve always been interested in environmental work, but I knew I didn’t want a traditional office job. Ultimately, I was attracted by the diversity of options in the renewable space. There’s a solid work balance because you get a mix of office work and outside work such as site assessments.
Right, there’s so many different types of ways to get involved in the energy transition—and the diversity of jobs will only continue to grow as the sector does. Can you share more about what Leyline Capital does and why it’s important to you?
Leyline is more than your run of the mill renewable company. At its core, Leyline is a financial institution. They help small developers and small organizations who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to get an energy project off the ground and provide the funding to make it happen. It’s more than just the financing though, they also provide much-needed tools, information, and consultation throughout the entire life of a renewable development project.
Tell us more about the REAAL Internship and your work experiences across the various teams?
REAAL is a rotational internship, meaning every two weeks you get hands-on experience working with a different team at Leyline. I appreciated the opportunity to learn a little bit about each team and it’s staff and receive exposure to various parts of the renewable industry. The program allowed me to learn about each stage of the process in the life of a renewable project.
I also appreciated the program’s flexibility. I was able to work at my own pace while I was a full time student in the spring before working full time, 40 hours a week, during the summer.
My favorite team was their financing team—I had very little prior experience with finance before the internship, and I learned the importance of financial support in the renewable sector. You really can’t get much done without help behind the scenes.
I also did a lot of work with directories using GIS data, which I think is an extremely valuable skill in this industry. GIS is one of those things that—if you have it on your resume, people will stop for a second to look a little more into who you are.
The two weeks I spent with the C-Suite was also my first exposure to corporate culture. When I first started the program—I barely knew what ROI [return on investment] meant. I scheduled one-on-one interviews and asked about their jobs and career paths and guidance on my own path.
Honestly, the one-on-one informational interviews I had with people across the entire company, in each team, was truly one of my favorite parts of the program. I’m not necessarily extroverted, but I found it very valuable to talk with all these different types of people. I asked people about their careers: How did they get there? Why were they there? What kind of job potentials did they see for themselves? And how the industry has changed since they started there? And I think a lot of them were very happy to answer because they don’t get asked questions like that very often. Everyone was very open and honest with their answers at Leyline, which was refreshing to see from people I who I perceive as successful.
I’m glad you said that, because networking is so important. It’s how people get jobs and advance in their careers. And that’s a big part of why we started Black Oak. Those one-on-ones are something that everyone should do in any internship or job.
Right. And another department I really enjoyed was actually human resources. While it wasn’t explicitly sustainability or energy work, I found the conversations important because I’m a first generation college student and this was my first corporate job. Being able to meet people in the workplace who also don’t come from traditional backgrounds was really, really good for my own confidence in the workplace.
I’m glad that you were able to see more of yourself represented across Leyline. Considering the wide range of experiences you had across departments, how do you think your time with Leyline will inform your potential career path?
It comes back to the diversity of options. I learned how many job opportunities are in the renewable space. The industry is huge, but it is also growing very quickly. Because of that, the jobs that are going to be available to me in a year and two years actually may not exist now.Mindy Dunn, 2022 alumna of the REAAL program
Thinking about that is exciting to me, but also could be scary for people who do place the highest value on job security. A big takeaway for my career path was the importance of asking questions. I also learned much more about what can be accomplished through the development side of renewables, which I’m a lot more interested in than the assessment or regulatory sides. The opportunity to see a project grow from start to finish is now a lot more exciting to me now.
Can you say more about the jobs which won’t be available for the next few years? What do you mean by that?
The Inflation Reduction Act is already prompting a huge hiring push in the renewables industry, and that trend will only continue to expand. I hope there will be even more recruitment programs similar to Leyline’s REAAL internship. For example, I’m in an environmental program at NC State, but there are very few undergraduate programs that are focused specifically on renewables. Oftentimes, the only entry points into the sector are masters or certificate programs. So moving forward, in addition to more jobs, we’ll need more programs to get young people into the renewables industry.
You are, I think, rare in the sense that you knew you wanted to go into renewable space while in school. But for many people that happens later in life. I actually majored in history in undergraduate. I’m in graduate school for climate policy now, but it took me a few years of working before I was able to make that shift. People generally tend to move around a lot in their careers, and having more entry level programs and exposure is extremely important. I’m glad you lifted that up.
Last question here. How would you recommend that underrepresented and minority students get involved with a clean energy transition?
Find people who might have similar backgrounds to you and try to reach out to them about it. And I think the other part is just putting yourself out there and not being afraid to send an email to somebody you don’t know. That’s how I started working with Leyline after an employee gave a talk at ] one of my classes. Leyline was still growing a lot at the time, and didn’t quite have the internship program together yet. But I was persistent. I was hired because I was a self-starter, very willing to be forward about asking for what I want. For many underrepresented and minority students, they don’t get the advantage of nepotism or people or family history in the industry because it’s so new. Nor are they always encouraged to be assertive and persistent in seeking summer opportunities in the same way. So I think one of the biggest things that you can bring to the table is just the willingness to learn and being able to be confident about communicating that. You have to tell people what you want in order to get it.