Richmond Hollen
Track: PV/Semiconductors
Undergrad: University of the Pacific, Stockton, CA - Engineering Physics
Internship: Nanosolar
Currently President at Hollen Innovation

 

 

I was always pretty good at math and science, but I didn’t become really interested in it until Mr. Andresen’s physics class in high school. His favorite catch-phrase, “physics is everything”, is something I still use today. I was also interested in being useful, so I decided to pursue a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of the Pacific. The program did a great job of preparing students for careers by placing us in “coops” before graduation. I was able to work in a national lab (JPL) and a large multi-national corporation (Tyco Electronics) before graduation.

In 2008 my undergraduate career was over and what faced most students moving on was the beginning of a recession that had a larger impact on our lives than anyone thought it would. I was one of the lucky ones. I was hired right out of undergrad at an up-and-coming solar startup. The exact company I wanted to join – Nanosolar. I was working with extremely smart, motivated individuals and we all believed our company would make a lasting positive impact on the world.

In two years I had learned and grown exponentially. So why did I choose to continue my education? Whenever you are working at a company, especially a startup, the next obstacle is always the highest priority. I was learning very specific skills and knowledge to overcome these obstacles, but didn’t ever have the full picture. My undergraduate studies had prepared me to learn and I was using those skills daily. I wanted to become a more efficient and valued employee by knowing the answers to problems ahead of time instead of learning them on the fly.

Now I was in a real pickle. I didn’t want to quit my job – I loved it. I did want to continue my education. There were local programs near San Jose where I could take night classes for a few years and come away with a Masters. This didn’t seem realistic. I knew I would always put my work before my education. University of Oregon provided a great solution. I could take a 3 month leave of absence from work to go back to school and then take a few night classes to finish. As long as my company was willing to bring me back with more responsibility than when I left, I could complete my internship there. The program was geared exactly toward what I wanted to learn. It was hands on and it was concentrated.

I had an unfair head start going into the summer studies. There is a huge advantage to going back to school after working full-time. You actually know how useful everything you’re learning is. I had spent two years learning about semiconductors and solar and I was very excited to learn more. I was impressed by how fast my classmates caught up and the level of teamwork throughout the summer. The days were long and sometimes stressful and they were always there for me and each other. These friends and experiences I will value for the rest of my life.

Since graduation my career has taken a few unexpected turns. I went from Nanosolar to a very small battery startup company. A year later I started my own business building equipment for all types of industries in Silicon Valley. Now my days are spent discussing needs of customers, designing and building tooling and spending a good amount of time at various facilities installing and servicing tools. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to make such big changes in my life without continuing my education.