From Clean Energy Trust to Peace Corps

Life news alert!

This past June marked my 4-year anniversary living and working in Chicago at Clean Energy Trust. It’s been an amazing period in my life but the time has come for me to explore new professional opportunities in an international context.

With that said, I recently accepted an invitation from the Peace Corps to serve as an Environmental Education Volunteer in Panama. Specifically, I aim to get fluent in Spanish while gaining more on-the-ground, hands-on environmental conservation and sustainable development experience in the developing world focusing first on Latin America. I have several family members that have committed themselves to public service in the past and close friends who have recently followed similar paths. Therefore, the Peace Corps really kept standing out as my best next option to continue my personal and professional journey. I will start this new adventure next February in the capital of Panama City when I begin three months of intensive training that will culminate in my deployment to a rural, to be determined Panamanian province I will call home for at least the following two years. I am excited to continue expanding my already-flexible comfort zone while attaining enduring experience working from the inside-out of a developing country.

My time at Clean Energy Trust has been incredibly rewarding in a number of ways. It starts with our mission to identify the most promising, innovative clean energy technologies and help dynamic, persevering entrepreneurs develop their businesses to thrive in the Midwest. This profound mission first attracted me to CET as a volunteer at the 2014 Clean Energy Challenge. From then on, I was able to secure a summer internship with the team following my graduation from the University of Florida. This internship led to an associate contractor position followed by the program manager role I’ve had the pleasure of working from for over 3 years.

I’m proud to have worked on a number of successful programs while at Clean Energy Trust, especially leading our engagement with students and universities throughout the Midwest via the Cleantech University Prize (Cleantech UP) program. Cleantech UP, a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored program we successfully re-implemented in 2015 as Midwest coordinator following the previously held National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, has been a catalyst towards discovering the most impactful technologies across college campuses and a critical node for our work with emerging entrepreneurs. I have also been lucky to have managed various facets of our flagship annual program, which has transitioned from the primarily grant-awarding CET Challenge into the direct investment-focused 501vc™ Investment Program. This emphasis on investment has built us a diverse, robust portfolio of game-changing companies that will continue boosting the Midwest’s innovation ecosystem for years to come.

While my experiences working with student entrepreneurs and early-stage cleantech companies have been invaluable, I’ll certainly miss CET’s family atmosphere the most. There are too many great people to thank but I’ll start with Amy Francetic and the CET Board for spearheading CET’s vision starting in 2010 and giving me the opportunity to join the mission. I’m also extremely grateful to past CET colleagues and our current team of Erik Birkerts, Ian Adams, Paul Seidler, Ben Gaddy, Alex Foucault, Susie Schneider, and Estelle Seals for their guidance, support, and friendship over the years. Working closely with such a remarkable group of individuals committed to a critical, global cause has certainly spoiled me for future professional environments but I am eager to carry my CET knowledge forward in order to engage new communities in need of sustainable change.

While my Peace Corps post won’t start until February 2019, I’ll be transitioning from CET at the end of August and back to Florida at the end of September to spend time with family and old friends, rest up, and recharge going into 2019. In the meantime, I fully intend to enjoy the rest of summer and early fall in Chicago. It’s been a blast and a blessing to be a part of the Chicago community and I hope to rejoin it down the road. Moving forward, I can be reached by email at and through LinkedIn at For anyone traveling to Central America for work or play, I will have minimalist accommodations at the ready!

Hope to see you soon!


By George Johnson | August 23, 2018