Duke Daytime MBA Student Blog
How Experiential Learning at Tesla Expanded My Professional Ambitions
There is a lot to learn in the classroom, but nothing compares to putting your knowledge and skills to the test in the real world.
As a current second-year speeding toward graduation, the number one piece of wisdom I would impart to my former self naively headed to Fuqua’s First-Year Orientation would be to take advantage of as much experiential learning as possible over the next two years. There is a lot to learn in the classroom, but nothing compares to putting your knowledge and skills to the test in the real world. Enter Fuqua’s Client Consulting Practicum, more commonly referred to as FCCP. The FCCP program matches student teams (primarily made up of Fuqua students, but several teams include students from other graduate programs including the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Sanford School of Public Policy) with participating businesses to develop solutions to current business challenges.
FCCP gives students a taste of what a career in consulting could look like, but the program is much more in that it provides students an opportunity to dive into a new industry or further develop their skills and familiarity within a certain sector learning through action rather than theory. As a career switcher, this opportunity to try on a new industry for size was uniquely appealing.
Diving Deep Into Energy
For my FCCP project, our team consulted with Tesla, working with their Energy Programs team. Prior to coming to Fuqua, I worked in the outdoor industry in communications and brand strategy. The world of energy was new to me, and I was somewhat nervous but mostly excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the brilliant innovators at Tesla. Prior to our first client meeting, the team at Tesla sent us several energy regulation reference documents and a white paper detailing the current state of energy storage in the United States.
I spent the next few days Googling everything in the documents. I had never given much thought to where our energy comes from and suddenly, I was analyzing interconnection queues and interviewing developers and members of Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) across the US. Before I knew it the fiction on my nightstand had been replaced with Gretchen Bakke’s The Grid and Saul Griffith’s Electrify, and where Taylor Swift had previously accompanied me on runs, I now found myself binge-listening episodes of Watt It Takes and the Energy Gang.
A Strong Team Bond
One of the best parts of the FCCP experience was working with my team. FCCP matched me with a talented group of peers with diverse backgrounds in renewable development, market expansion, sales, and energy analytics. With curiosity as our superpower, we went to work deepening our understanding of the market challenges and opportunities.
Each member of the team brought a unique skill set, and I learned a great deal from them. Early in the semester, the two members of our team more familiar with energy hosted us for Energy 101 sessions, schooling us in the intricacies of market participation, pricing, and interconnection. The member of our team with a background in sales could get anyone to agree to a phone call with our team (their masterful outreach techniques have benefited me greatly in the recruiting process) and our team member with experience in marketing and market expansion was an Excel wizard, brilliantly analyzing interconnection queues (I aspire to such talents).
The feeling of Team Fuqua presents itself in many ways and the FCCP experience is no different. We not only developed a strong working relationship with each other but also a close personal bond. That’s not to say there weren’t challenging moments or any of the struggles that come from working on a team, but I learned a lot from the few brief moments of conflict about giving and receiving feedback and asking for help when I need it.
Outcomes and Impacts
So much of the graduate school experience is rooted in the theoretical. FCCP provides the opportunity to put your skills to the test, grow your knowledge and skill set, and practice your abilities as a leader and teammate. It’s also an opportunity to have real impact at an organization. Several months after our FCCP project ended, our team heard from the client that our work had informed a decision the company made for a developing hardware product.
We made a small impact at Tesla, and at the same time, FCCP had an outsized impact on me. My curiosity and passion for accelerating the energy transition have grown exponentially since undertaking this project. It shifted my professional aspirations and has sent me down a different career path than I anticipated when I started at Fuqua. I am incredibly grateful for the FCCP experience, the opportunity to work with the brilliant folks at Tesla, and the privilege of being part of an incredible team.