From Tunisia to Colorado for Co-op Knowledge

Learning about the electricity business and America during internship

Rihab Ammar, a student from Tunisia, is interning at Colorado’s LPEA this semester while studying at Fort Lewis College. (Photo By: Aspen McCarthy)
Rihab Ammar, a student from Tunisia, is interning at Colorado’s LPEA this semester while studying at Fort Lewis College. (Photo By: Aspen McCarthy)

Lots of co-ops have interns, but how many travel 6,000 miles to get there? Rihab Ammar did—and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Ammar, 23, studies at the National Engineering School of Monastir—as in Monastir, Tunisia. She’s now an exchange student at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, on a full scholarship from IREX, a nonprofit that focuses on international education and development.

Never having been to the United States, Ammar left her home in Gafsa, Tunisia, last August. While she’d heard of the Rocky Mountains, “I didn’t know Durango. I had to Google it,” she laughed.

For the spring semester, Ammar’s experience includes an internship at La Plata Electric Association in Durango, where the co-op keeps her busy.

“I’m doing everything,” said Ammar. It’s exactly what she hoped for when she first came in for an interview.

“I told them that I’m here in a learning process. I will be taking anything that you ask me to do. Because anything I’ll be doing I’ll get something out of it.”

Rihab Ammar

“Rihab started by helping us enhance our AMI metering system and performing data analysis to verify construction cost estimates. But whenever there is an opportunity, we like to expose Rihab to the side of the industry she has a passion for: renewables and energy efficiency,” said Dan Harms, LPEA manager of rates, technology and energy policy.

“She has joined us on energy audits, distributed generation inspections, commercial LED retrofit jobs, and most recently she has helped us evaluate the possible benefits of utility-scale energy storage.”

Along with her three days a week at LPEA, Ammar is taking five courses this semester: two engineering, two business and one composition. If it sounds like she has her nose to the grindstone you’re correct. In fact, Ammar went beyond the call while working on a project in March.

“During spring break I didn’t travel. I had plans, but I didn’t do them because I want to spend as many hours here and do the project properly,” she said.

When asked what she gave up, she shyly admitted it was a trip with friends to Miami.

That didn’t surprise Harms, who called Ammar “the type of person I only have to ask once to do something.”

“Her excitement is contagious,” said Harms. “It is not only great to teach her about our industry, but also to learn about her culture and way of life in Tunisia.”

By the end of April, Ammar will be home in Tunisia, looking ahead to working on her master’s and reflecting on a great year.

“If I make it to the United States again I’m going to visit Durango first, and then I’m going to go to Miami,” she said. “Durango is the best. I love this place.”

Michael W. Kahn is a staff writer at NRECA.