Ricardo Pena, a Master’s student in Public Administration at the Fels Institute of Government, with a Certificate in Energy Management and Policy from the Kleinman Center, allows life to lead him. Upon graduating high school from the small town of Bluffton, Ohio, Ricardo attended the Ohio State University in 2008, unsure of what the future held for him. For many undergraduates, the unknown is frightening. This lack of focus can be an overwhelming hurdle for many first year students, but for Ricardo, it was precisely how he thrived: by letting his passions guide him, listening to his heart, and doing what felt right.
What felt right, Ricardo found, was caring about and supporting the wellbeing of others, drawing him to Ohio State’s College of Social Work. During this time, Ricardo focused on, as he puts it, “trying to make good in this world on a micro level,” volunteering with a wide array of programs that serve communities in need. These opportunities included: assisting with trade route development in Jilimbi, Ecuador; leading a trip for One World Running in Belize; working at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first and leading provider of HIV/AIDS advocacy in New York City; and facilitating presentations focused on housing the homeless for the Coalition of Homelessness and Housing in Columbus, Ohio.
After graduating in 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Social Work and a minor in Leadership, Ricardo again let life lead the way. On what he calls “a whimsical decision,” Ricardo joined the Peace Corps, where he was stationed in the Southern African country of Swaziland. While quick to admit that his two years in Swaziland were not easy, and that the work that he did, teaching English and Life Skills to students in a primary school, facilitating weekly clubs on HIV prevention and female empowerment, was not always as successful as he had hoped it would be, the experience nevertheless changed Ricardo. His time with the people of Swaziland broadened his understanding of humanity, mainly that people, no matter their race, religion, or culture, are simply people, with wants and needs and a desire to be understood. Ricardo carried these sentiments home, in a phrase often uttered in Swaziland: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
This spirit of “going together” led Ricardo on his next journey. Taking the sensibilities he gained from bettering lives on a micro level and focusing on how he could serve others on a larger scale, Ricardo enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government in 2015, seeking a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Knowing the broad implications that policy can have, Ricardo narrowed his focus to an area that has long been his passion: the environment. A self-described environmentalist, Ricardo sees this as his foundation, approaching policy research through the lens that a better environment will go far in benefitting lives for many years to come. Through internships at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, as well as PennFuture, a non-profit working to protect Pennsylvania’s environment, Ricardo learned firsthand how the environment and our energy consumption are inextricably linked. His current internship, working this summer with the Department of Energy’s EV Everywhere, an initiative put in place to increase the use and normalization of plug-in, electric automobiles, speaks to this connection.
As Ricardo continues to pursue his passions, he knows that there will be challenges. At an event he attended through the Kleinman Center, Ricardo watched as major stakeholders in Philadelphia’s energy grid were unable to find compromise in bringing a cleaner, greener future to the city’s infrastructure. Where some might see hopelessness, though, Ricardo sees room for understanding and growth. It is a perspective he learned in Swaziland, and continues to hold close to him to this day: focusing on the good. That focus, he believes, will help us move together, and when we move together, Ricardo knows we will go far.