Jami Summey-Rice says being an older, nontraditional student has both advantages and disadvantages. Due to her large amount of personal and familial responsibilities outside of school, “I have to learn and work faster than everyone else,” she says. “I study and do homework in a fraction of the amount of time that my classmates do it. I probably average 5-6 hours of sleep a night.” At the same time, she feels more confident in her skin. “I know what I want, how I think and what I want to accomplish. I also realize that second chances are very hard to come by — so getting it right the first time is a priority.”
Summey-Rice worked in sales and sales management for ten years after high school. “When the economy crashed,” she recalls, “we lost everything. And that’s when we decided it was time for me to go to college.”
Now, between her sophomore and junior years in the University of Houston’s Chemical Engineering major program, Summey-Rice is studying in the Energy & Sustainability minor program as well. Energy and Sustainability minor faculty Dr. Joseph Pratt and Dr. Ognjen Miljanic are part of the reason she loves the program so much.
“They teach the introductory class together. They open your eyes to the fact that there are two sides to this one very important coin. They don’t take political sides, they just give you the facts and encourage you to continue to think and develop your own opinion. I can’t imagine one without the other at this point!” she says. Summey-Rice is close to these two professors because she is the Teaching Assistant for ENRG 3310, an Introduction to Energy and Sustainability, which is one of the capstone requirements for the minor.
Two things drew Summey-Rice to study this unique minor under Pratt and Miljanic. The first is, no matter what lens you view the universe through, energy is the most important thing. And sustainability is just a way of understanding how we should obtain and use the energy that is available. Secondly, she believes that education has become too polarized. “As a student, you become entrenched in either hard science or liberal arts, with very little overlap.” It takes both kinds of people and both sides of our brains to solve problems, though. “The Energy and Sustainability minor is the first program I’ve seen anywhere that appears to be striving to close that gap,” she says.
She is concerned with the label “green” to equal environmentally sound. “Being green is great—but not if you become so ‘green’ that you put everyone out of work. No one cares about the environment if they are starving. But economic growth to the point of destroying the natural world will not allow our species to survive.” She goes on to ask, “Where is the balance? And how do you develop a smart, safe and lasting balance without the proper education?” According to Summey-Rice, having an opinion is good. Having a plan that you can back up with science and business is better.
After graduation, Summey-Rice plans to use her education to pursue a career in the oil and gas industry. But she doesn’t want to rule out using her Energy & Sustainability minor to find a role where she could influence policy in the future. She believes that we all have something to contribute. “We need others — others who are willing to look at all the information with an unbiased attitude and who will solve our global energy, environmental and economic problems,” says Summey-Rice. Bright minds like hers are a requirement for solving today’s most pressing issues. “So far, the minor in Energy & Sustainability has solidified what I already kind of thought on my own — there is so much to learn!” she says enthusiastically.