Renewable energy is our future. Just ask Gracyn Draney ’23, who interned this past summer at Dominion Energy, a Richmond-based Fortune 200 company that provides electricity and natural gas across the country.
“Going into sophomore year, I wanted to get more aggressive in terms of looking into career opportunities,” Draney said. She applied to the conference, which was catered to minority students and women, to learn more about Dominion careers and gain potential networking opportunities. Of the 800+ applications from students nationwide, only 125 were selected to participate—Draney among them.
And, as if being accepted to the conference wasn’t a feat in itself, Draney was surprised to learn that participants were automatically considered for Dominion’s selective internship program. The volleyball captain was walking out of evening practice when she received an email notifying her that she had been accepted to the conference. In it, there was additional guidance on signing up for an internship interview with the company.
“Initially I was freaking out but very excited,” Draney said.
It turns out her nerves were all for naught. Draney landed one of the coveted full-time, paid Dominion internships and was placed with a solar energy team after mentioning her passion for renewable energy.
“Dominion Energy’s willingness to tailor internships to students’ needs and interests shows their commitment to investing in the professional development of their interns,” said Jessica Majkowycz, Assistant Director of Employer Relations & Internships with EDGE. Majkowycz now advocates for other students to apply for the yearly conference.
Draney’s internship was focused on finding land in Virginia that could potentially be used for small-scale solar sites. Her role was to identify suitable land plots and contact landowners. The selection process was impeded not just because of the various criteria necessary for land to support small-scale solar energy projects, but because land in general is hard to come by. Draney met a lot of opposition during her search because many landowners believed the space could be used for agriculture instead of supporting solar energy.
“It’s really hard to get these small-scale solar projects up and running because there is so much pushback,” said Draney.
At the end of the summer-long internship, Draney had compiled a list of potential small-scale solar sites accompanied by land information, ownership details, and opposing viewpoints, which she presented to her team at Dominion. She was working on urgent deadlines given the project’s backing by the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), passed in 2020 by Virginia’s General Assembly. The legislation clears many barriers to solar projects as Virginia seeks to decarbonize its energy grid.
“Meeting the legislative laws and working with those timelines really put into perspective how important my internship was in getting more renewable energy on the market,” Draney said.
Draney attributes her success at Dominion Energy to her Environmental Studies and Business courses at Randolph-Macon. She says they have improved her creative problem-solving skills given how different the areas of study are.
“Having a dual-major background allowed me to have a much broader understanding of the project’s scope,” Draney explained.
She notes that her academic advisor, Professor of Biology Dr. Charles Gowan, was an instrumental support during her internship. The two were in contact at least once a week. Dr. Gowan said that Draney was a pleasure to mentor because “she is smart, goal-oriented, and a planner. We’ve had excellent interns with Dominion previously, and I knew Gracyn would maintain and grow our relationship with the company.”
While Draney doesn’t have a specific field in mind for her career, she has a strong desire to work in renewable energy. In the meantime, she appreciates having the ability to test out different options.
“I love that renewable energy is our future and has a direct impact on where we are going to be in 2050,” she said. “There is still so much out there that I don’t know about that I would love to explore.”