Felix Vazquez-Guemarez has only been with the Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs Office (WIP) for two months, but he brings a level of experience well beyond his tenure. It’s not because he earned his Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from the University of Puerto Rico and a Masters in International and European Union Law from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, though that certainly helps. It’s because of his work as a Minority Educational Institution Student Partnership Program (MEISPP) intern. But Vazquez-Guemarez wasn’t just a MEISPP intern once; he’s done it four times.
In 2012, Vazquez-Guemarez had his first MEISPP internship in the Project Management Office, which is the predecessor of the Project Management Coordination Office as well as the Workforce Management Office. During this time, Vazquez-Guemarez was trying to decide whether to direct his graduate studies to law school or medical school. “I met environmental attorneys, and I was like ‘well, this is a perfect fit; I want to do this,” he said. He was able to network with several of the attorneys he met, and in 2013, he split his MEISSP internship between EERE and the General Counsel’s office. In 2014 and 2015, while he was attending law school, Vazquez-Guemarez was a MEISPP intern yet again, though solely in the General Counsel’s office.
There were two main reasons Vazquez-Guemarez decided to come back to DOE a fifth time, this time as a Science, Technology, and Policy fellow, one of the fellowship programs offered by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) in collaboration with EERE. The first was the vast network he had accumulated during his MEISPP internships in and around the Washington, DC, area as well as within DOE. The second one was the devastating impact of the Hurricanes Irma and Maria on his native Puerto Rico. “I had a blank page. All my plans changed. I was studying for the bar when the hurricane came, so I couldn’t take the bar in Puerto Rico,” Vazquez-Guemarez said.
Vazquez-Guemarez ended up pursuing an ORAU fellowship with the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) branch of WIP. “I decided to work with WAP because I get to use my J.D. to help reduce energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes, while ensuring their health and safety, as well as work on legal issues arising daily,” he said. Vazquez-Guemarez’s WAP duties include providing technical assistance to project officers, researching legal issues associated with WAP’s projects, as well as some project management. “They say that even though I’m a fellow they want me to feel as part of the office and like a project officer,” he said. His work with WAP also includes helping his home island recover from the devastation of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. “[WAP is] working with Puerto Rico in developing pilot programs that would provide solar panels to many homes that still don’t have electricity,” Vazquez-Guemarez said. Furthermore, he’s assisting WAP to achieve better communication with their Puerto Rico counterparts with some technical assistance and translations on grant applications. Vazquez-Guemarez’s favorite part about working at EERE, both as a MEISSP intern and an ORAU fellow, is how welcoming the staff are. “I just feel like there’s a big sense of community and I felt that since I was an intern,” he said.
Though WAP is doing its part to help in the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, there is still much to be done. As part of his work with WAP, Vazquez-Guemarez went to Puerto Rico last month to assist with onsite recovery efforts. “In the metropolitan areas, the electricity is back on,” he said. “However, the island is still dealing with normal power outages. In one instance while we were there the entire island lost power. It’s getting used to that new normal, I guess, but there’s nothing normal about losing power.”
When his ORAU fellowship with WAP isn’t keeping him busy, Vazquez-Guemarez enjoys travelling. “That’s one of the things that pushed me toward international law when I was pursuing my J.D.,” he said. He also enjoys reading, binge-watching Netflix, and camping.