Non-profit led by York alumna provides MES student with rich internship experience

York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) is providing opportunities for current students and alumni to work together through enriched mentorship and real-life work experiences.

Master of Environmental Studies (MES) candidate Craig Stephens recently completed an internship with Plug’n Drive, a non-profit organization lead by York alumna Cara Clairman (MES LLB ’93) that is accelerating the adoption of electric cars in Canada.

Stephens’ internship was one of 18 opportunities FES’s Work Placement Program created for their undergraduate and graduate students this year. The program assists students in finding internship opportunities for course credit and work experience. This year’s success is largely attributed to the network of FES alumni that are keen to mentor current FES students.

Clairman, president and CEO of Plug ‘n Drive, says work experience for students is a key stepping stone to career success.

“Mentoring is really important to me,” she said. “I remember how difficult it was to get into the job market and, for sure, having some hands-on experience is a big deal. So if I can help some FES students with that, I’m happy to.”

The world of Electric Vehicles (EV) and the work at Plug’n Drive had a natural alignment to Stephens’ major graduate research project of creating a hybrid motorcycle. During his internship, he had the opportunity to see both sides of the company. He worked on the front lines of Plug’n Drive’s new Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre (EVDC) and behind the scenes as part of the team revamping the organization’s business model for Charge My Car, a web-based service to sell electric car chargers.

“There are so many benefits to bringing students in,” said Clairman. “Millennials have a different perspective and, in our business, there are definitely changes coming in car ownership. It is a good way to recruit new talent and we certainly hope everyone who works with us will be an ambassador for electric vehicles in the future.”

Located at Dufferin and Finch, the EVDC is the first facility of its kind in the world. The centre provides an experiential learning environment for electric vehicles, where visitors can learn the environmental and economic benefits of driving an electric vehicle, read up-to-date information on government incentives, and can even test drive the latest electric vehicle models from leading manufacturers, including the BMW i3, the Chevrolet BOLT, Ford C-Max Energi and the Nissan LEAF.

“It’s not like walking into a dealership,” Stephens said. “It’s amazing to come and learn in a non-sales environment. We give an unbiased opinion and we are experts in the whole spectrum of EV ownership.”

Interacting with the public in EVDC and at Plug’n Drive’s hugely popular International Canadian Auto Show booth helped Stephens gain an understanding of what the EV audience is concerned about and looking for.

“You can learn a lot from people,” Stephens said. “Even when you’re supposed to be the expert, there are always new perspectives. I have a better understanding of what the perceived barriers are to owning an electric vehicle and how to respond to that.”

Part of Plug’n Drive’s mission is to aid in the development of Canada’s electric vehicle industry and to enhance current electric charging accessibility for consumers. Through Charge My Car, Plug n’ Drive has created new access to the growing EV market, and for Stephens, his internship has brought his studies to life.

Within his MES program, Stephens is pursuing a diploma in business and the environment, which is offered jointly by FES and the Schulich School of Business. At Plug n’ Drive, he is directly supporting the Charge My Car’s business development by assisting the project manager with everything from business analysis, from sales trends to the costs involved from inventory to shipping.

“It’s amazing to have this hands-on experience as a part of my degree,” Stephens said. “I know I want to pursue a career in EV and I’m confident it will open doors for me down the road.”

Those interested in exploring the EVDC can check out its upcoming event and learn more about the future of electric vehicles with Clairman and Stephens.