Saumyaa Mehra ’21: Energy Office, Philadelphia City Government

Name: Saumyaa Mehra
Class Year: 2021
Major: Mathematics
Hometown: Delhi, India

Internship Organization: Energy Office, Philadelphia City Government
Job Title: Summer Research Intern
Location: Philadelphia

I’ve always been somewhat of a math geek, and really wanted to understand how math and data are used to solve real-world questions. When I got a taste of it in Professor Victor Donnay’s Differential Equations class while using equations to solve sustainability related questions, I approached him to explore the application of math to sustainability more extensively. He told me about the various projects that the Philadelphia city government is doing to work toward cleaner energy sources, and this opportunity immediately caught my interest.

At the Energy Office, I am working as a summer research intern on the Indego Philadelphia Bike Share program. The program is a part of the Municipal Energy Master Plan, which lays out a roadmap of how we could reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. The goal of my project is to calculate the reductions in carbon footprint when people switch to bike-share for travel in place of public and private transport.

As of now, I spend most of my days working with data and my project-head on the next steps to calculate the carbon emissions. The project just kickstarted and I have used some old data to calculate the distance covered by the bikes from 2016-2019 given latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates. Now, after using data from surveys on the shift in mode of transport, I am calculating the associated carbon emission savings. We’re also working on figuring out strategies such as, ways to make bike share more accessible to low-income communities, provide access to urban biking and new-rider lessons to ensure success of the program. And oh, at times, we also collectively treat ourselves to a batch of iced coffees to get those credits on Ritual 😉

Overall, it’s a lot of fun because I am getting a chance to really work on my analysis and excel skills, ask the right questions given a certain research area, and utilize data sets appropriately to help me answer those questions. I am also learning how to network with people and put myself out there in an office environment.

As far as living in a new city goes, living in a city even if it is just 15 miles away from where you’ve spent (and slogged) the last two years is a whole new adventure. While I wouldn’t necessarily call Philadelphia a “new” city for me given its proximity to Bryn Mawr, visiting the city during the cold winter months in the middle of the semester for some dim-sums, as compared to living here during the summer and spending Sunday afternoons in Rittenhouse Square, are completely different experiences. While living in Philadelphia on my own has been a slight challenge, it’s been nothing short of great. The feeling was a lot more unsettling, unfamiliar and scary at first, but as soon as I learned to get comfortable in my own presence, manage money well, started cooking as a way to de-stress and bond with my roommates, summer in the city has started to look wonderful.