Reflections is a monthly column written by Island Fellows, recent college grads who do community service work on Maine islands and in remote coastal communities through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront. Ben Algeo works with the electric utilities on Monhegan and Matinicus as they work toward energy efficiency.
The job description of your average Island Fellow is usually pretty vague. There’s a reason for that; we’re supposed to be somewhat adaptable, able to take on new projects as they arise, and adjust existing projects if they aren’t going as planned.
However, this also means what we actually do can be pretty varied, and, at least in my case, you get plenty of practice doing things that you are definitely not qualified to do in any traditional sense. To drive that point home, here is a comprehensive list of roles I’ve taken on over the last 20 months, for which I had little to no relevant experience:
I’ve never worked construction in my life. However, with the careful, patient guidance of the Monhegan Plantation Power District’s plant manager Chris Smith, I’ve spent the past two months demolishing and rebuilding a power station on Monhegan. I still have all my fingers, too.
I was lucky enough to go to the University of Maine, which has a very good engineering school. Unfortunately, I didn’t attend it; I was a political science major. Still, several of my friends did go to school for engineering, and were actually pretty responsive when I asked them questions like: “Can you please explain block loading in layman’s terms?” or “What is a wye-delta configuration?”
Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure I could conduct open heart surgery with a Lull forklift at this point.
While I have yet to dabble in actual live line work, I have helped splice high voltage mining cable, phased two- and three- phase cable runs, pulled buried lines, staged conduit, operated a bucket truck and conducted thermal and visual inspections of pad-mounted and pole-mounted transformers. Not a bad resume for someone who went to school for political science, if you ask me.
Running LED light bulb bulk purchase groups on Monhegan and Matinicus brought out my inner salesman. As Alec Baldwin said in the 1992 cult classic Glengarry Glenn Ross: “Always Be Closing.”
I’ve run a couple of in-school programs and a field trip in the Monhegan and Matinicus schools during my fellowship. This very limited experience has shown me just how difficult of a job teaching really is, and I have nothing but respect for the professionals who do it every day.
If you ever want an energy-related, guided tour of Monhegan, Island Institute Community Energy Associate Harry Podolsky and I have it down to a science. It’s a tempting offer, I know.
Rule No. 1 for effective meeting organization is to make sure there’s food available, and when your cooking abilities are as limited as mine, you have to improvise. Ordering takeout to an island 22 miles offshore is not out of the question.
Corralling people for photo ops and capturing candid moments on my camera phone is a much bigger part of my job than I ever expected it would be. I owe a big debt of gratitude to Scott Sell and Maren Granstrom, the Island Institute media gurus whose collective knowledge of iPhone photo and video composition have been invaluable.
Hey, this isn’t too bad, right? Right!?