Distinguish Graduate in Sciences 2014: Adam Plesniak works to make solar better

by Andrea Huston, Reporter

The 2001 graduate Adam Plesniak is the 2014 honoree in the sciences for the Distinguished Graduate ceremony on Tuesday, November 20, 2014.

Plesniak started his career in science as a teen. He was awarded the Rensselaer Medal and Scholarship to Rensselaer Polytechnic University when he was a junior in high school. He also worked as an intern at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center  in the summer between his junior and senior year. At NASA he worked alongside NASA engineers and scientists for a few weeks to get a feel for what they do and to help them in their projects.

During high school, however, Plesniak was not only focused on science. He took many other courses that the school offered including history, Spanish, marching band, concert band and jazz band.

Plesniak is “generally just naturally interested in learning new things.” However, he “always had an easier time reading numbers than words.”

Plesniak thanks his teachers that he had in high school. His most vivid memory of high school was when Mrs. Kim Gilbert would bring her cheeseburger soup to class after a big calculus test or when  Dr. Peter Rothenhoefer, a history teacher, told Plesniak that Plesniak was the type of person to receive a Ph.D

Even though he worked with engineers over the summers, he did not receive a big enough push towards the career from his advisors at school. “ I still had no idea what an engineer actually did.  It just wasn’t clear to me, and no one had really explained it properly in a way I could understand.”

After high school, Plesiak continued his success with a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the Rensselaer. He also earned a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and a Certificate in Systems Engineering from the California Institute of Technology.

Still, it took him 10 years of practice for him to define is field.

Currently, Plesniak is a Principal and Vice President in Product Engineering and Design at Arzon Solar in California. The company designs and manufactures concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) solar power systems which require no water, use land more efficiently, and produce more energy per acre than any other solar technology.

“What is exciting about solar energy is that the industry, products and technology are still very young.  There are still many things that need to be figured out and improved, and the sun will continue to shine and wait for us while we figure it out and change the world!” said Plesniak.

He is also the Founder and President of Quickgit. He lives with his wife Peggy in California.

He thinks about what he would have liked to know in high school. “ Take what you are interested in right now, be it music, theater, math, science, writing, drawing, etc, and be the best at it that you can right now.  Seek out the best teachers to help you develop and tune your natural interests right away. Do not wait.”

After much reflection, Plesniak knows one key to solving problems is engineering. He now knows how to define his life’s work.

“So then, what is engineering?  Simply put, it is learning how to make all things better.  Do you want a faster car? Or how about an electric car?  Engineers are working on that.  What about a faster iPhone, or one with a better camera, or cooler apps?  Engineers are working on that right now.  So, as an engineer, I am always looking at things and my experiences and saying, ‘How could this be better?'”

Read more about the 2014 Distinguished Graduate Ceremony.