Q&A with Deborah Sandoval '16, Yellowstone Sustainability Software Development Intern

Sept. 21, 2015

Deborah Sandoval '16 spent the summer in 2015 at Yellowstone National Park and Montana State University as the Office of Sustainability's first Yellowstone Sustainability Software Development/Technical Intern. The Internship was funded by the High Meadows Foundation Fund. Learn more about her experiences through this Q&A: 

Describe your role as the Yellowstone Sustainability Software Development/Technical Intern?

My role as an intern was to design and implement an energy dashboard for an off-grid facility in Yellowstone National Park: the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. The dashboard allows users to view information about energy consumption on the ranch and how it relates to factors such as temperature, time of day, and time of year, etc. Additionally, the dashboard would give energy information about the solar arrays located on-site. I worked with staff from Yellowstone and Montana State University to complete the project. 

What was a typical day like for you?

I lived on MSU’s campus and walked to work every day at the HVAC lab in the engineering building. The lab was made up of mechanical and industrial graduate students. I was able to work in Yellowstone periodically, where I helped with hardware maintenance and worked on installing my software on-site.

What was the most challenging part of the internship?

I was given freedom to make implementation and design decisions. The dashboard was merely an idea when I arrived and it was up to me to create the blueprint on how it was going to work. It involved a good amount of research, learning new languages, and trial-and-error, but I learned so much along the way.

What was your favorite part about the internship?

This internship was not a typical tech internship experience; I spent as much time admiring the outdoors as I did in front of the computer! On the way to the site we were sure to spot antelope, bison, and occasionally a black bear with her cubs. On the site, I was able to hike around the ranch during my lunch breaks and admire the beauty of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley.

What was the most important takeaway for you?

In relation to energy, small details can make a big difference. Putting a small effort to cut energy use can make a big effort in the long run. 

Do you have plans for how you might use the internship experience in future endeavors?

My senior thesis topic centers around the data logging I helped implement on the ranch. The current title is: Machine Learning in Energy Consumption Prediction. I am hoping to use the data to create an algorithm that will help occupants at the ranch utilize the energy stored from the solar arrays. This could potentially useful for other facilities looking to have net-zero energy consumption.

Describe your experience working with your on-site internship supervisors, and with the Office of Sustainability.

Shana Weber and Deborah Sandoval at Lamar Buffalo Ranch

Working with Office of Sustainability and the staff of MSU and Yellowstone was a great experience. The Office of Sustainability was very supportive in all aspects of my internship and checked in regularly to make sure things were running smoothly. The team at MSU and Yellowstone made sure I had all the resources I needed to complete my project efficiently and encouraged me to get in touch with the outdoors.