Student Profile

Bittler wins 2020 SAME Award

Senior honored for academic achievements in engineering

Amy Donna Bittler

The New York City Post of the Society of Military Engineers (SAME) has awarded Harvard College senior Amy Donna Bittler, S.B. ’20, the 2020 Colonel and Mrs. S.S. Dennis III Scholarship in recognition of her hard work and academic excellence.

An environmental science and engineering concentrator at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), she will receive a scholarship check of $500 from SAME.

Bittler, who plans to pursue a career in sustainable energy, is looking forward applying her engineering skills to protect and preserve the environment.

Her interest in environmental preservation goes back to her childhood. Growing up on 13 acres of land in Westminster, Md., Bittler was constantly surrounded by the beauty of nature.

“Even as a young kid, I remember my dad carrying me around and going on hikes. In a way, I was raised to love being outside,” she said. “As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been really connected with the outdoors.”

In high school, Bittler joined an environmental club where she and her peers planted trees and worked on sustainability projects. That club opened her eyes to devastating environmental problems, and inspired her to work on solutions.

She arrived at SEAS set on studying environmental science and engineering.

“I was drawn to the problem solving focus of engineering, and how solution-oriented it is,” she said. “And then I love environmental science and engineering because the problems we work to solve are ones that I care deeply about, like air pollution, climate change, or other challenges to the environment.”

Keen to gain insights about environmental research projects, she jumped at the opportunity to intern in the sustainability group at Oakridge National Labs in Tennessee after her sophomore year.

She learned about a number of innovative projects, such as a unique method for drying clothes that used sound waves to shake water out of fabric. Bittler also quantified the energy savings of projects the lab had already commercialized, such as fiberglass insulation.

The following summer, as an intern at The Public Service Enterprise Group in New Jersey, Bittler worked on the utility’s energy efficiency program and saw the many challenges of administering it on a large scale.

Her experiences with energy efficiency, demand response, and energy storage inspired her to embark on a senior thesis project related to the energy system.

Advised by Na Li, Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics, Bittler developed a battery storage optimization algorithm. The model incorporates information on building energy demand and the emissions generated from pulling a unit of energy off the grid at a certain time, based on the efficiency of the power plants that supply that energy, to determine when a building should draw power from batteries to reduce overall emissions generated over the course of the day.

The biggest challenge Bittler faced was dealing with data for her model. Since there was not much information available on the emissions and costs of energy from the local power grid, she derived estimations based on the fuel mix for the entire regional grid.

“The biggest lesson I learned is that data is really important. I thought my project would be more focused on the coding and math that went into the algorithm, but that turned out to be a pretty small part,” she said. “I spent the bulk of my time working with the data to get it into a form the algorithm could take. It impressed upon me how data driven so many things are now.”

Bittler expects to draw on those data analysis skills in her career, whether her job is related to renewable energy, the environment, or sustainability.

And although she is disappointed to not be finishing her senior year on campus as she expected, being back home in central Maryland, again surrounded by 13 acres of trees and flowers now coming alive for spring, has given her a sense of hope for the future.

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