Alumni News

Between Nature and Science: Ryan Chigogo '23

Ryan Chigogo ’23, energy analyst at Charles River Associates, reflects on his time at Bennington College. 

Article by Gaurav Aung '24

Like so many who end up at Bennington, it was through serendipity that Ryan Chigogo ’23 arrived at the College. As an international student from Zimbabwe, his primary concern in applying to colleges in the United States was finding an option that would be both academically fulfilling and financially feasible. With this in mind, Ryan applied to multiple colleges; Bennington happened to be one among many on his list. It was only upon his acceptance to the school that Chigogo began exploring more of what Bennington had to offer. 

Chigogo grew up in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, and wanted a college experience in a more pastoral location, preferably surrounded by nature. He was also drawn to the Plan Process, especially in regards to how it allowed for more flexibility and self-determination than his high school education had. 

“I come from a science-y background and had spent the last two years of high school doing mostly science and math,” said Chigogo. “I realized at Bennington I could take other classes I find interesting.” 

Though his ambitions lay in Physics and Math, he wanted an education that wouldn’t preclude him from doing things outside his primary fields of study; this was exactly what Bennington seemed to provide. With that, Chigogo committed to Bennington. 

His first term at Bennington, he remembers feeling overwhelmed. 

“It was overwhelming in both directions, good and bad. For the good, I was constantly surrounded by beauty, both  in nature and in my classes,” Chigogo said. “But being at Bennington was a culture shock. I was getting used to a new climate, people, place, and language.” 

It was during Chigogo’s second term that the pandemic hit. As one of many international students who couldn’t go back home, Chigogo spent both the spring and summer of 2020 on campus. Despite the torpor the entire globe was thrown into, Chigogo remembers those times fondly. 

“I was spending time and getting closer with peers,” he said. “After our initial phase of isolation, [those of us left] on campus were much more intentional in building community, and it was amazing to be part of that.”  

It was during Field Work Term in the winter of 2020 that Chigogo first acquainted himself with an industry he would go on to pursue professionally: the clean energy sector. During this time, he worked for a program with Electrify Now, an environment and sustainability company based in Oregon, and Bennington College. The aim was to determine the best means of decarbonizing the College. 

Image of Ryan Chigogo at Google
Chigogo at Google offices in Seattle during the summer of 2022.
Image of Ryan Chigogo
Chigogo at Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona during winter 2022.
Image of Ryan Chigogo
Chigogo at University of Utah in Salt Lake City during the summer of 2021.

In his capacity as an analyst, he was tasked with determining the fuel makeup of Bennington, including assessing which buildings on campus were using the most energy and how the school was powered in general. 

“[We were] trying to understand what at Bennington was emitting the most amount of carbon dioxide and what could we do to stop that?” 

Toward the end of the project, Chigogo presented his findings to the Bennington administration.

Chigogo went on to complete a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) opportunity at the University of Utah in the summer of 2021. His specific work revolved around high-energy astrophysics, specifically unknown gamma ray sources a thousand light years away. 

“I got to dive into work you don’t get to do at Bennington,” said Chigogo. “I got to see what the PhD students were doing.” 

Chigogo’s experience in Utah led him to work at Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Amado, Arizona that same winter. Although the town was “in the middle of nowhere,” Chigogo remembers his time at Amado with fondness. 

The night sky was so beautiful,” Chigogo said. “I would drive down the mountain and listen to Mexican radio stations because Amado was so close to the border with Mexico.

As much as he may have enjoyed these two experiences, he questioned whether delving so deeply into such specialized topics in astrophysics was his thing; he wanted to bring his work back to the real world and confront social problems. He returned to Bennington and took classes at the Center for the Advancement of Public Action to help him explore these questions further and orient his work towards social good. 

During his final summer at Bennington, Chigogo was selected as a participant in the Energy Scholars Program. Based in Seattle, the fully-funded program invited students from around the country to participate in eight weeks of educational and professional development in the clean energy sector. As a collaboration between Google, Microsoft, University of Washington at Seattle, EnergyGPS, Vestas, and LevelTen Energy, the program sought to familiarize its participants with current happenings in the clean energy sector. 

We learned how players like Google and Microsoft were changing the energy game,” Chigogo said. “We were shown how clean energy infrastructures were being implemented, and how the energy market was evolving.

His final year at Bennington Chigogo remembers as being particularly tranquil. Feeling that he had garnered both technical expertise through studying physics and professional experience through his various Field Work Terms, he applied to jobs in the energy industry. 

Chigogo would eventually be offered a job at Charles River Associates, a global consulting firm, where he works in the Energy Practice. He models energy portfolios for utilities and provides clients support with litigation and financial modeling for due-diligence projects.  

Chigogo says the skills he accrued over his time at the College are instrumental to his professional success. His current ability to take on varied, unfamiliar projects at work is a direct consequence of having taken classes in such disparate disciplines at Bennington. 

In the future, Ryan is considering either going to graduate school or starting a farm. At present, however, he is content at his current job.