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Sustainability student brings talent to the UN in Korea

August 28, 2018

Junkee Ahn is a senior at ASU studying sustainability at the Tempe campus. This summer, he took his skills abroad to South Korea. His studies focus on sustainable energy, materials and technology.

Where were you interning and where was it located?

I was working in the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. I worked in the East and North East Asia office located in Incheon, Republic of Korea. The office covers six member states — China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Japan, Mongolia, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Russian Federation.

What is a normal day like at your internship/what do you do there?

My main task is to work on Northeast Asia Regional Power Interconnection. There are interconnected power grids in Europe and North America, like in the United States. But there are none in northeast Asia. This is a very interesting idea not only because it is directly related to my major and specific focus, which is sustainable energy materials and technology, but also because it holds a strong potential to become a reality in the near future.

I also attended the North-East Asia Low Carbon City Platform workshop in Wuhan, China, in June. It was my first official travel with the United Nations, and it was a good opportunity for me to learn how exactly multilateral cooperation happens and what processes are gone through to achieve specific sustainable development goals.

What are your career aspirations?

It is estimated that more than a billion people still have no access to electricity and more than 3 billion people have no access to clean and efficient fuel technologies. Everyone is entitled to benefit from clean energy, but too many still suffer from energy poverty. Access to clean and modern energy is a fundamental need for sustainable society. I would like to contribute my work toward promoting ubiquitous sustainable energy for all.

How did you get your internship?

I found my internship opportunity and applied through the official United Nations website. I strongly encourage students to visit their website to search through available positions since there are many internship opportunities throughout various sectors in numerous countries.

What is the most useful/interesting thing you’ve learned so far?

I learned how sustainable development goals are implemented, measured and calculated. For example, the United States has an SDG index score of 72.7, and I have learned what methods and calculations are used to come up with the number.

It was very interesting to experience the benefits of networking. My supervisor connected me with Korean Ministry of Environment and Korea Environment Corporation, which led me to receive full funding and even stipends to participate in a conference as a notetaker.

How do think your internship will help you achieve your career goals?

Every task the United Nations does is related to sustainability. As the end of my internship period approached, I could more clearly understand the system and protocol of international organizations. Participating in many activities and conferences as well as working directly within specific sustainability topics allowed me to narrow down options of what I can/want to do after graduating this coming December.

What advice would you give to other students to help them make the most of their internship experience?

I say choose the internship that best fits your interest. If the internship site does tasks related to your specific focus, any work you will do is much more engaging.

Look for funding opportunities from government, academic, NGOs, the public and private sector and even associations. There are so many scholarships and programs available to make the most of your internship experience.

Take all the advantages you can get from the university. For example, I was able to find out about numerous opportunities to fund my internship with the United Nations during a course taught by Marsha Gonzaga, one of the School of Sustainability faculty members.

Why did you choose ASU?

After receiving a certificate degree for sustainability from the University of California, Los Angeles, I moved back to San Diego to continue my sophomore year as an electrical engineering major. I wanted to switch my interests to sustainability, but [the school] did not have any programs. I looked through other places and found ASU.

I immediately contacted Lisa Murphy, the academic director of the ASU School of Sustainability. Along with other staff, Lisa was very supportive and helpful to make my educational transition process very smooth and a pleasant experience.

As a transfer student, I have experienced very innovative projects and took very useful and interesting courses during my time in ASU, which not only changed my perception of the world but also shaped my specific interest within sustainability and my future career path.