Student profiles

A few of ISE's students answer some questions about their study experience and living in Iceland.

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Current Students

Bethany Bronkema

From Fulbright Scholar to Sustainable Energy Engineer

In 2022, Bethany Bronkema received a Fulbright scholarship to conduct research at Reykjavik University. Her project focused on the environmental aspects of Iceland's aluminum production, allowing her to explore a new dimension of sustainability studies. This experience led her to become an integral part of Reykjavik University's academic community and inspired her to enroll in the Iceland School of Energy's MSc in Sustainable Energy Engineering program.

From Lancaster to Fulbright Scholar

Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Bethany began her journey in sustainable energy at  Swarthmore College , near Philadelphia. Here, she earned an undergraduate degree in Engineering with a minor in Environmental Studies. Philadelphia provided a practical backdrop for her studies, where she engaged in urban agriculture projects that combined her engineering skills with environmental stewardship.

Bethany enjoying the breathtaking landscapes of the Icelandic highlands.

Bethany enjoying the breathtaking landscapes of the Icelandic highlands.

The Fulbright Experience in Iceland

Bethany's transition to a Fulbright scholar marked a significant step into the sustainable industrial sector. In Iceland, she researched the environmental impacts of using inert anodes in aluminum production, positioning her at the forefront of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of one of the world's most energy-intensive industries. Her research, cultural immersion, and personal development during her Fulbright tenure were transformative, blending scientific inquiry with cultural exchange.

What was the main goal of your Fulbright project, and what drew you to focus on that particular area?

My personal core objective was to develop more specific environmental modeling skills, specifically in terms of life cycle assessment. Although I was interested in the aluminum production that happens in Iceland and its effects, I was mainly drawn to the project as a way to develop the modeling techniques that I could then apply to other topics. For the project itself, the objectives were to identify the 'hot-spots' of carbon emissions in the aluminum production process in Iceland and see how these might be mitigated with a transition to inert anodes. Overall, it helped me to learn to work with complex processes that have both positive and negative environmental aspects and form interesting connections to other researchers in Iceland.


Fulbright Iceland welcomes the 2022-2023 American scholars and students. Pictured: Bethany. Sourced from Fulbright Iceland.

Continuing the Journey at the Iceland School of Energy

After her Fulbright year, Bethany enrolled in the master's program at the Iceland School of Energy (ISE) within Reykjavik University. This new chapter deepened her engagement with sustainable energy solutions. At ISE, she collaborated with faculty members Dr. Gudrún Sævarsdóttir and Dr. David C. Finger, expanding her research scope beyond aluminum production.

How did collaborating with Dr. Gudrún Sævarsdóttir and Dr. David C. Finger shape your research approach or change your perspective on sustainable engineering?

I feel that I got pretty lucky in finding two advisors that were both able to be very helpful to me while also having quite different knowledge and backgrounds. Gudrún was the main technical advisor for this project and was able to help me understand the background of conventional aluminum production and its significance in Iceland, while also connecting me with companies on the leading edge of inert anode research. She was able to show me the more industrial side of environmental engineering work, which was something I hadn't been exposed to as much before. David, on the other hand, was able to guide me in the modeling process and techniques for assessing environmental impacts. He helped me nail down the big picture of my research and also focus on the impacts that come across as the most significant. It really was the combination of my two advisors' sets of expertise that I felt shaped my research approach, as I was able to utilize both technical and systems approaches.

Bethany is currently working on her thesis, which aims to develop a comprehensive life cycle assessment model for energy harvesting technology. Her work integrates her engineering and environmental insights with the research skills honed during her Fulbright year, exemplifying the interdisciplinary principles promoted by ISE.

Bethany-Arctic-Circle-Bethany presenting her pitch at the Arctic Circle Assembly 2023 as part of the Arctic Innovation Lab.

Looking Forward: Impact and Aspirations

Bethany's academic journey from Pennsylvania to Iceland underscores the value of international education and interdisciplinary research in addressing environmental issues. Her experiences highlight how programs like the Fulbright scholarship and institutions like ISE prepare students for challenges in the sustainable energy sector.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to students considering applying for a Fulbright grant in the field of sustainability or environmental studies?

I would definitely recommend taking advantage of learning from other countries in these fields, and the Fulbright grant was a great way for me to do that. Coming from the US, it was really significant for me to learn from a country that places a higher priority on sustainability and environmental issues. Sustainability is certainly a global issue, and every country or region is going to need to employ different solutions to meet climate goals. Because of this, I think it is really important to have a broad understanding of the common approaches to sustainable solutions in other countries. All that being said, my advice would just be to really commit to learning from the place and norms around you and take full advantage of the unique skills you might get from studying in other countries.

Bethany's story illustrates the benefits of combining diverse fields of study and cultural perspectives to find solutions to sustainability challenges. As the global community seeks answers to environmental problems, Bethany's experiences demonstrate the impact of dedicated research and international educational opportunities in the field of sustainable energy. Her path serves as a practical reference for future professionals, showing how focused study and global collaboration can lead to impactful work in sustainable energy.

For those in the U.S., exploring opportunities like the Fulbright program can provide invaluable experiences. Similarly, international students interested in studying in the U.S. will find these programs enriching. Learn more about these opportunities at Fulbright Iceland.

About Iceland School of Energy

By bringing together the best from industry and academia, Iceland School of Energy provides a unique, and comprehensive training for its students. A wide range of courses taught by the very best in their field open a broad spectrum of possibilities for students and allow for individual study designs. Focus is put on close collaboration with industry experts while maintaining high academic quality of the work.

Iceland School of Energy is part of and accredited by the School of Science and Engineering at Reykjavik University in Iceland.

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