DeAndrea Salvador (’13) remembers sitting in her grandparents’ Charlotte living room and listening as they shared stories with neighbors about struggling to pay high utility bills.
Years later, as an economics major at UNC Charlotte with a minor in anthropology, Salvador combined her educational skills with a long-held passion to help low-income Charlotte residents learn ways to control residential energy costs.
"I found there are gaps in addressing the need of high-energy burdens."
Her goal was to try to do something tangible to assist families living in so-called energy poverty, which occurs when a household spends more than 10 percent of its income on energy expenses.
“I recall thinking, ‘There has to be something I can do. Let me look and perhaps find ways to help,’” she said.
After transferring to UNC Charlotte from Wake Forest University, Salvador engaged with faculty members in the Belk College of Business and joined a business fraternity. She also interned with Apple and the Electric Power Research Institute, among others.
Using some of the lessons she learned from internships and faculty members such as economics professor Peter Schwarz, Salvador began to research the issue.
“I found there are gaps in addressing the need of high-energy burdens,” she said. “I discovered I am equipped to perform cost-effectiveness analysis and apply for grants – and can use the skills I acquired to chase after the dream that came from working collaboratively with so many groups. It really became a passion.”
After she graduated, Salvador founded the nonprofit Renewable Energy Transition Initiative (RETI) in Charlotte. RETI aims to sustainably decrease the costs of low-income families, with an emphasis on education and behavior changes.
“This issue must be addressed in a more holistic way,” she said. “I am fortunate to pursue this as a career; regardless, it would have been a hobby.”
Her efforts have been noticed.
In April, Salvador spoke in Vancouver at TED2018 as one of 20 fellows chosen for the TED Fellow program, which was established to bring together innovators from around the world to address global issues.
Salvador sits on the board of directors for Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), which empowers young people to create community change. She also serves on the Mecklenburg County Air Quality Commission, addressing air-quality improvements and concerns.
Most recently, she was selected for the UNC Charlotte Young Alumnus Award, which she received on April 20. Her economics professor, Peter Schwarz, wrote the nomination.
“Since DeAndrea earned her degree from UNC Charlotte, she has had a series of accomplishments of increasing importance” he wrote. “She has persevered through challenges, driven by her passion for education and assisting the poor. Since her graduation, she has created nonprofit organizations, sought funding, communicated through writing and conference presentations, and reached out to other UNC Charlotte students.”