Young Researcher Earns First-author Credit for Study on Equitable Energy Access

This article originally appeared in Pittwire, Jan. 16, 2019. By Amerigo Allegretto.

Each day, new studies are published in various scientific journals, big and small. Most are led by university faculty members and PhD researchers, but rarely by undergraduate students.

This wasn’t on Meital Rosenberg’s (A&S ’17) mind when she traveled to India for her undergraduate research. 

Rosenberg, a graduate from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Economics, was recently credited as a first author in the journal Nature Sustainability. She, along with colleagues at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University, published findings on the relationship between energy use and gender equality in India. 

“I was amazed. It’s amazing to think that something I worked so hard for and cared so much about is being recognized in that way,” said Rosenberg, who is now an associate with the San Francisco-based company Hirsch & Associates. “I spent a lot of time working on this throughout my junior and senior years. It’s an honor to see.”

For the study, Rosenberg traveled to the Indian state of Gujarat during her junior year in 2016 as part of her Honors College Bachelor of Philosophy thesis. She interviewed families on their heating and lighting sources, as well as electricity use and reliability. 

“I chose India largely because my economic development classes were filled with case studies and research being done in India,” she said. “I really wanted to look at economic impact from the lens of how it reaches marginalized groups. Researchers believe that economic development benefits all people, and studies often suggest that access to these resources will particularly benefit women. I was curious to see if that was really happening, and how women were actually benefitting from these developments.”

What she and her team found was that women are neither the sole nor primary beneficiaries of electricity access—even when appliances that would particularly benefit them, such as fans or televisions, are affordable. Instead, intra-household power dynamics were found to be an important boundary to realizing more equitable energy access.

“The women would often tell me that the television was for their kids or husband and not for their own personal use,” she said. “Some also told me that electricity made their lives more difficult because they were working longer hours; they were no longer able to stop when the sun went down.”

Among her coauthors were fellow Pitt alumnus Daniel Armanios, an assistant professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon. Armanios graduated from Pitt with degrees in mechanical engineering and political science in 2007 and earned a Rhodes Scholarship while at the University. He met Rosenberg at a Pitt Honors College meeting in 2016.

“This is a testament to Meital’s ideas and insights. We simply helped her push this idea to fruition, but it was her idea that led to these results,” said Armanios. “Such a publication like this is significant for a faculty member. So, for her to accomplish this as an undergraduate, it opens a whole line of opportunities for research, industry and further education. To work with a student of such rare conviction and talent as Metial is what makes being a faculty so rewarding.”

Other coauthors include Michaël Aklin, director of undergraduate studies and associate professor in Pitt’s Department of Political Science, and Paulina Jaramillo, professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon.

“I don’t know if I would have kept pursuing publication for this study if it weren’t for them and their belief in this work,” Rosenberg said about her faculty colleagues.

While Rosenberg does not currently have plans to return to research, she continues to work in philanthropy, focusing on community engagement and social impact change, something that carries over from her time at Pitt.

While a Panther, she served as executive vice president and business manager for the Hillel Jewish University Center. She was also a consultant for Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations, where she further developed volunteer engagement strategies for local community arts centers, and was a resident assistant at Litchfield Towers.

“I always grew up with a ‘make the world a better place’ mantra. My parents worked in the nonprofit, community service world. I’ve always been motivated by finding out what my role is in supporting marginalized communities,” she said. “I want to continue to work in that space to develop best practices on effectively and sustainably impacting social good to create a better world for all people.”