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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Avery Barnett

Photo contributed by Avery Barnett.

You know the song, “One of these things (Is not like the other)”?

That’s how I felt when talking with Avery Barnett ’21. She named three things she’s done or can do: wiggling her ears, being a stunt double and traveling to four countries within a month of each other.

Of course, I had to know more about the second two points. “When I was fifteen, I was a stunt double for a local celebrity,” Barnett said. “I was at dancing [practice] and my gymnastics coach called my mom saying like, oh can Avery do this? That same day I got fitted into clothes and the shoot was the next day.”

The third point was a bit more understandable. She was in Nepal working with the Green Program to build a solar powered water pump that could push the water supply two kilometers up a hill. After that, she went to Austria to see friends, flew through Canada on her way home to Jamaica and settled down in Australia for her study abroad program.

Yes, she said, she did touch a kangaroo while she was there.

Kangaroos did not prove the most dramatic bit of the trip. Once COVID-19 started changing the flow of the world, study abroad programs came to an end. Although Barnett said her family came out relatively unscathed, Barnett faced various obstacles as the world came to a halt and she found herself across the world. “The only downside was when I got kicked out of Australia and almost locked out of my country,” Barnett said, laughing. Indeed, Barnett had to work through a few exceptions in order to re-enter Jamaica.

Barnett is more than just surprising stories, though. She has focused on renewable energy since before entering Grinnell. In high school, Barnett went to a science camp where she and her group built the blades of a wind turbine. It’s safe to say the experience stuck with her now that she’s graduating as a physics major with concentrations in technologies and environmental studies.

Barnett’s credentials around renewable energy extend even beyond her degree: directed research on the history of renewable energy, an independent project on solar cells and internships with an electric company can all be found on her resume. “I’ve dedicated so much time to energy and energy systems. I don’t want to build them,” Barnett said. “I want to do more of the implementing the plans to make it work. That’s where I think my niche is in the world right now.”

Her internship with an electric company was in Barbados, where she analyzed local land in to see if the company could set up 100% renewable energy systems with solar and wind. The island is very small, which made finding space difficult. “There is enough land,” she made air quotes with around land. She focused on the base-level work; making calculations and figuring out what physical structures are needed to shift the energy system from being coal-dependent to renewable.

Now that you know a bit about her travel stories and research focus, she led me to a more creative space: Barnett has a harp in her room.

She learned the steelpan during her first year and from then it was her goal to learn a wind, string and percussion instrument. The harp fulfilled her string requirement. “I tried to do the saxophone for the wind, but,” – Barnett shakes her head sadly – “it didn’t work out.”

She’s currently using one of the College’s harps, since they’re expensive to buy. “Maybe, maybe I’ll get one for grad school but that’s a discussion that my parents will have to be involved in.” She said she doesn’t plan to get a grand concert harp, they’re too large and too heavy to lug around without a trolley. Even a smaller harp makes moving difficult.

Hopefully that won’t be an issue, though. “I’m hoping to just stay in one place for my graduate career,” Barnett said. In the fall, Barnett goes to Princeton University to do their Science, Technology, Environmental Policy (STEP) Program. (She’s done with physics after Grinnell.)

Barnett said that her goal is consulting, but she wants to focus on energy systems overall. “It’s the only think I’ve been passionate about consistently over the years.”

Barnett’s wise words of advice are to attend as many conferences as you can during your time at Grinnell. She experienced 13 during her four years, each paid for through college programs. “All these conferences are a fun time,” she said. “I just really like to leave Iowa, you know, explore something new.”

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