Hot coffee and waste heat: An afternoon with Kathy Leifer

This Badger was in Wisconsin, not Hawaii nor Antarctica, while she completed her Sustainable Systems Engineering degree (though really, is there much of a difference, as far as the weather goes?). But she still has one heck of a story to tell. This is Kathy Leifer’s experience at UW-Madison.


We sit in Colectivo during the peak afternoon hour. Over blaring indie rock music and the chatter of other coffee house inhabitants, Katherine Leifer, August 2017 graduate of UW-Madison’s Sustainable Systems Engineering master’s degree program, tells me, a UW-Madison marketing intern, about her plan to save the environment.

Leifer is enthusiastic and animated as she explains scientific sustainability topics that are beyond me – especially about the value of waste heat. Before this moment, I’d never heard “waste” and “heat” in the same sentence, yet it’s the most used phrase in our conversation.

What did I get myself into?

I type what she says and nod with hesitation, adding multiple question marks in my notes to Google later. As a communications major, science doesn’t come easy to me. (But you got to fake it till you make it, right?)

Unlike me, Leifer’s expertise lies in sustainability. Also unlike me, Leifer is not the type to fake it. Or if she does, she sure “makes” it well: While thriving in her master’s program, she worked full-time as a senior account manager for Alliant Energy in Fond du Lac, Wis. The program took up a lot of her time in addition to working, but Leifer enjoyed being engaged back in school, and she’s already feeling the benefits.

“[Even though] I just graduated in August, I think my value to the company, I’m hoping, has grown as a result of the degree,” Leifer says, which is always promising for a student like me to hear.

Click here to read the rest of Kathy’s story.

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