Erica Bjelland, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance program development specialist, received a professional accolade for her involvement in the solar industry.

Bjelland was one of 30 professionals the American Conservation Coalition recognized for the first time in its 30 Under 30 list. The ACC labels them "The Green Generation."

Though her coworkers had nominated her some time earlier, Bjelland didn't know about the honor until March when she was officially selected.

"I thought it was a hoax at first," Bjelland said. "More than anything it was really nice that my coworkers did that. Then I went to Texas in April and met the other people on a panel about energy. That was really fun meeting the other people. There were some really impressive people."

Bjelland was honored and participated on a panel on energy during the EarthX event in Dallas, where many experts in many fields made connections and presented on their experiences. In addition to energy experts, there were individuals working to extract greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere to produce consumer products and other fuels, individuals working to improve ocean health through accelerated coral growth and reef protection and many other topics.

"There was a wide range of people," Bjelland said. "It was environmental things in general. There were people doing incredible work with oceans, people with the Department of Energy, people doing work in energy other than solar. That was exciting to meet a lot of different people who are trying to make a difference and do things from different parts of the U.S. There are so many people in other places doing good work."

Bjelland spoke on a panel of six experts in her field, but she also used the opportunity to make professional connections she could bring back home.

"I definitely made good connections with people doing similar work making environmental energy more accessible to people," Bjelland said. "That was exciting meeting more people doing that type of work."

Bjelland said her mentors at RREAL helped her to earn this distinction.

"I don't know what made me get to this point," Bjelland said. "I feel grateful I've had a lot of mentors like Jason (Edens) and BJ (Allen) that have been really great, I feel like, to teach me what they know and all of their knowledge and that's helped me grow as a person."

She hopes to use this experience to improve the work RREAL does from Backus.

"It was sort of unbelievable at first," Bjelland said. "It was great. I'm thankful for RREAL and what they've given to me. I definitely feel like I have a lot of gratitude to give back to the organization."