SARANAC LAKE - When Saranac Lake native Adam O'Neill decided to fly to China for an internship, he knew it wouldn't be cheap.
So, the 28 year-old UMass-Amherst student tried the traditional fundraising methods; he applied for scholarships, sought grant funding, and dipped into his personal accounts. The result? "I was about $6,000 short," said O'Neill.
That's when he got creative. According to O'Neill, he gathered names and email addresses for nearly 80 friends and family members. Then, he sent out his plea.
"I explained what I was doing and why it was important," O'Neill said.
This week, O'Neill will board a plane destined for China, where he will take several courses and then participate in an unpaid internship for the Joint U.S. Cooperative for Clean Energy (JUICE). For O'Neill - whose concentration is in Environmental Economics and Entrepreneurship - the trip is an opportunity for him to learn about the budding alternative energy business in a place where the market is expanding exponentially.
"The whole thing started because I wanted to do something relevant to my studies, but still challenging and potentially lucrative," O'Neill said.
O'Neill said that he sees clean energy as both a human right and as the "wave of the future." He noted that China has been in the spotlight as of late for a variety of environmental issues, many of which stemmed from the Bejing Olympics.
Once O'Neill established the connection between clean energy and China, he began researching possible means of traveling to his destination and working within his field of expertise.
"I ended up emailing the founder of JUICE, Peggy Lou," said O'Neill. "She told me that they didn't have any thing listed as far as internships were concerned, but to send a cover letter and resume anyway."
Things moved quickly from that point on, as Lou contacted O'Neill to offer him a temporary position. He contacted the study abroad office at UMass and set up a program.
After receiving several scholarships and financial aid, O'Neill realized his funding shortfall.
"I had a $6,000 gap to close," he said. "I didn't panic, though. That's when I came up with the songwriting idea."
O'Neill put together a mailing list of family and friends, whom he contacted. The offer: O'Neill would record an original song, tailor-made for the individual who donated to his travel fund.
"I didn't want to just beg for money," he said. "I thought that this would just make the entire experience that much more meaningful if I combined two of my passions."
Of the 80 or so people that he contacted, 25 contributed and 12 requested an original song. O'Neill said that the songwriting process has always come easy for him, but in this case he had to try harder than usual.
"It was interesting," he said. "I had to sort of strike a balance between creating a song for a specific person but also making sure it still sounded authentic."
The songwriting endeavor yielded $4,400 of the $6,000 O'Neill needed - but the icing on the cake had yet to come.
Before he made contact with friends and relatives, O'Neill had applied for a $5,000 Freeman-ASIA scholarship and was told that he was runner-up. As luck would have it, a spokesperson from the scholarship foundation called him soon after his personal fundraising drive was finished.
"I was told that the winner of the scholarship declined," O'Neill said. "So just like that, the money gap was closed and suddenly, I'm ready to go to China and embark on this journey."
O'Neill will return from his trip in four months, and he expects to come home motivated and energized to join burgeoning green energy movement.
Those wishing to hear the songs O'Neill recorded are encouraged to check back in future issues on the Tri-Lakes Today, as he expects to put together a blog featuring his work.