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Shining a light on community action

MES in the Community, Mahvish Azim Ilyas

A Penn student concludes her degree with an illuminating internship

Mahvish Azim Ilyas (Master of Environmental Studies ’18) wants to shine light on solar energy in Philadelphia. As an intern at the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA), Mahvish began conducting research on renewable energy policies and solar financing tools. Her role expanded as she became more involved with Solarize Philly, a citywide PEA initiative to help all homeowners go solar energy at home. In addition to identifying the policy and market instruments to catalyze the solar market in Philadelphia, which is the focus of her MES capstone project, Mahvish helped to organize information sessions, presentations at local festivals and partnerships with civic associations and environmental education centers. “Community lies at the heart of what we do,” she explains. “Talking about the environment is not just about saving the planet, it's also about how to make lives easier and better for people.”

Mahvish’s community outreach roots extend globally: before coming to Penn, she worked for six years with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Pakistan. Not unlike her increasingly community-centered role at Solarize Philly, Mahvish’s tenure at WWF began with a research-intensive internship for her Bachelor’s in environmental science and grew to encompass knowledge-sharing, resource management, fundraising and corporate relations for the Green School Programme, an environmental education initiative. While working with corporate leaders, Mahvish decided that her next career step would be to develop expertise in sustainable policy, marketing and business models. “What brought me to Penn is that the MES program lets you design your own degree,” she recalls. “I wanted to focus specifically on environmental policy management and business, and I was able to take courses at the Wharton School and Penn Engineering.”

While completing her coursework at Penn, Mahvish’s commitment to community continued to power her academic as well as professional interests. When she attended a Sustainable Brands conference in Detroit, she facilitated the founding of a Sustainable Ocean Alliance chapter at Penn and visited a local classroom to talk to students about careers in sustainability. Upon graduation from the MES program, Mahvish was awarded both the Excellence in Environmental Studies Award from the Earth and Environmental Science department and the Global Citizenship Award from Penn Global, honors conferred in recognition of academic achievement as well as demonstration of service to the Penn community. A member of both the International Student Advisory Board and the Graduate Advisory Board, Mahvish feels that student participation is vital to the Penn experience. “Every voice is equal, and we all have a right to be heard,” she says. “The best way to do that is becoming a part of the conversation. It’s not only our right but our responsibility to become a part of the solution.”

Mahvish plans to remain involved with the MES program while she explores career prospects in Philadelphia, and she looks forward to an opportunity to combine her expertise in environmental research and policies with her passion for communication and civic engagement. “Penn is your canvas, and you can fill it up with your talents and your skills,” she assures future MES students. “The beauty of this program is that everyone's there to help you, and they just want to bring out the best in you.”