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Jake Saitman on climate justice, combining passion with profession

Nicole Arca
Jake Saitman (SC '12) stays grounded and works hard to enact change in energy policy. Read about his advocacy for clean energy and his thoughtful words of advice to graduating seniors in this week's alumni spotlight.

Despite being only one year out of college (he graduated from Boston University in 2016 with a Business Finance degree), Jake Saitman has already worked on four political campaigns and garnered more than a year's worth of experience in the clean energy sector. However, what's most impressive about Saitman is his dedication to using his career as a means of affecting change that (quite literally) will save the world. 

What made you passionate about clean energy and politics?

I’ve always been an environmentalist. I’m a strong advocate of using one’s professional career as a mechanism to drive positive change. I felt that the best way to tackle climate change was through energy policy. In my opinion, energy policy tends to be more proactive in solving the climate crisis compared to environmental policy, which I believe is more protectionist.
Once I realized that I wanted to devote my career to clean energy, I was lucky to secure a job during school at a company that promoted energy-efficient products and services like high-efficiency windows and home energy audits. That part-time job lasted for a little less than a year until the company unfortunately went bankrupt. Luckily a few months earlier I had gotten involved volunteering for the Sanders campaign, and from there I realized that I can combine my two passions of clean energy and politics by focusing on energy policy.

Once I came to that conclusion, I decided to essentially scrap my finance degree and devote my professional career to enacting policy that would help our country adopt renewable energy. I decided that I would work for political candidates that promised robust investments in clean energy and environmental protection. Besides Sanders, I was able to work on the Clinton campaign in Philadelphia, manage a State Senate campaign in Massachusetts, and I am currently working a side job as the volunteer director for a citywide campaign here at home in Somerville, MA.
After both Sanders and Clinton lost, I realized I also wanted to devote my efforts to solar adoption directly. I felt disheartened that all my work for these candidates yielded no results after their losses. I joined SolarCity full-time as an energy consultant, helping modernize and decentralize the energy grid in northern Massachusetts through clean energy adoption. Due to both my public and private background, I was then approached to chair the subcommittee for energy and climate policy for the Young Democrats of Massachusetts. This was really exciting for me, because it meant I would be able to lead an advocacy group in inciting public pressure on elected officials to transform our energy infrastructure toward energy efficiency and sustainability. I feel incredible lucky to not only know what I want to do with my life, but also have the resources available to make those dreams come to fruition.
Were there any experiences at Sierra Canyon that directly informed your collegiate and career decisions/ambitions? Feel free to mention specific teachers, classes, etc.

Not in the way that you may think, but for me the constant fire days and the few times when it was raining ash at school really made climate change a real problem as opposed to some intangible issue. I did have some teachers show me how to persevere in the face of massive hurdles to achieve my goals, however. I wasn’t really a huge math person and constantly struggled in pre-calculus and AP calculus, but Ms. Whitlock-Trotter believed in me to the point of letting me take her higher-level courses and ultimately pass the AP exam. I knew she had faith because I know how seriously she takes her pass rate at the end of each year. I’d also bet she’d be surprised to find out I have a degree in finance considering how bad I was at math in high school. Right now, fighting climate change seems like the most insurmountable hurdle in my life, but if I could pass AP Calculus, I could do anything. Noah Salamon and Tom Fennell also stand out in my mind as teachers who were extremely supportive and came off as intrinsically invested in their students.
Why did you choose Boston University, and what made you want to stay in the Greater Boston Area?

I chose BU because of the proximity to the city. I really liked that there wasn’t too much of a campus feel to the school, and I really took advantage of how I was in the heart of Boston, traveling all over the city and exploring new areas. I think it’s safe to assume I know the city like the back of my hand at this point, especially after my outside sales and campaigning jobs required me to travel throughout the greater Boston area. In regards to staying here, the reason was my job opportunity as Deputy Campaign Manager for the a State Senate campaign I worked on, which was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I think it helped fast-track my career in campaign operations, and allowed me to move on to some other really interesting roles working for other candidates.
What is the best piece of advice that was ever given to you, that you would pass down to current Trailblazers (especially to graduating seniors)?

I can’t remember who told me this, but the statement I lived by in college is “you are worth so much more than your college degree”. This is probably the number one thing that graduating seniors need to understand. When I was a senior at Sierra Canyon, it seemed to me like I was valued as a human by the college I decided to attend. It was the most important thing in the world to me, but in reality that belief I held was nonsense. In my experience, college was an exciting time that really taught me more about myself compared to any specific subject matter. Even in my own circumstances, I graduated from business school and majored in finance, yet the path I’m taking right now could not be farther from typical corporate life. Working up to 105 hours a week on campaigns and working nights and weekends for SolarCity has me constantly busy, but the work I do is incredibly gratifying. I am still able to maintain a work-life balance, and having the freedom to work jobs that I deeply care about whenever I need to is far more valuable than earning a high-paying salary on the top floor of some high-rise building downtown. I hope the Sierra Canyon seniors can understand that their degree doesn’t determine their life trajectory, their career goals, or their worth as a human being. In my view, it is one’s contribution to making this world a better place that defines a person.
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Sierra Canyon School is a private, independent, non-sectarian, co-educational, college preparatory school for students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12 located in Chatsworth, California. The highly cosmopolitan campus community is reflective of the Greater Los Angeles area and the world at large. Students are empowered to realize their greatest creative, ethical, intellectual and physical promise through small class sizes, a diverse student-teacher culture and a family-like environment.