Fresh Energy has a commitment to nurturing talent and building new clean energy leaders. In honor of our 25th anniversary, we are profiling a handful of “Fresh Energy Alums” who worked with us early in their career.
This month, Fresh Energy’s engagement fellow Kirsten Triller caught up with David Collier, now the aide to the chief inclusion officer for the State of Minnesota. David worked at Fresh Energy from January to May 2016 as a Capitol Pathways intern while he was in school at Metro State University. The Capitol Pathways program works to open access to the Minnesota Capitol to the next generation of leaders of color and ensure our government is truly representative of our communities.
What made you interested in participating in the Capitol Pathways program?
David: One of my counselors at school sent me information about the Capitol Pathways program, which provided opportunities for students of color to get experience working with policy. At the time, most of my work experience was in youth development and I didn’t have a lot of experience with the Legislature at that point. I applied for the internship, and of the approximately 150 applications, I was selected as one of the 26 cohorts. We had to pick three subject areas to work with through the Capitol Pathways program, and I chose renewable energy as one of them. It was a topic I was curious about and wanted to learn more about.
What were some of the core activities you worked on while you were at Fresh Energy? What were some of the highlights?
David: As part of that program, I worked with Fresh Energy’s legislative team to build support and protect key policies in the session. I had the opportunity to sit in on different hearings, meet with House and Senate representatives, track bills, and shadow Fresh Energy staff to learn more about the legislative process and how a bill goes from being formed to getting passed. During the 2016 Legislative session, our big focus was working on pollinators and transportation.
Can you tell me more about your role as the aide to the chief inclusion officer for the State of Minnesota?
David: At the end of my internship, I was asked to speak alongside Governor Mark Dayton and other interns at the reception to celebrate the first year of the Capitol Pathways program. I remember that in his remarks at the celebration, Governor Dayton said, “Take advantage of the opportunities in front of you.” That resonated with me. Looking back, it’s kind of ironic since I had no idea I would be working under Governor Dayton soon after. A little bit later, I had the opportunity to meet with James Burroughs, who told me about his role as the chief inclusion officer. After meeting with him more, he asked me if I would be willing to interview for a position as his aide—which I did and was soon hired for.
We have four big focuses with inclusion. One, we want to encourage recruitment and provide employment and retention of protected groups—people of color, LGBT, people with disabilities, and veterans to name a few. Then we work with the Equitable Share Contract. When it comes to the state government, over 2 billion dollars goes out for contract every year. In 2015, less than 0.5 percent of contracts went out to the African American community, for example. This population is about 20 percent of the Twin Cities, and the Equitable Share should reflect what the population is. We also want to increase community engagement, and we do this by having conversations with community groups, not to them. We want to get them at the table, making sure they have a voice. We want to give a voice to people who otherwise wouldn’t feel like they have one. Then we want to encourage some social reform. Especially in light of recent events, we want to get police officers, community members, and legislators all to the table to talk about these issues. We’re not pointing a finger, we’re just trying to encourage conversation and build trust.
Was there anything you learned during your time at Fresh Energy that helped prepare you for this role?
David: Learning how to track and search for bills has been very helpful for my work in the Governor’s office. Also, being involved in the Capitol Pathways program, I realized it wasn’t normal for students of color to get the opportunity to work in the legislative environment. I would walk into meetings sometimes and get looks like, “Why is that person here?” Being in the program has helped me better encourage other students of color to be in a similar position.
I was happy I got the chance to work at Fresh Energy. Everyone was wonderful to work with. Leadership will always be the reason an organization does well or doesn’t do well, so I want to credit Michael Noble’s excellent leadership at Fresh Energy.