Seeking to make a difference: Alum introduces Rivian EV vehicles to new customers and employees – News
Sarah Kane ’19 is on a journey to save the planet.
Inspired by a profound Earth Day presentation she watched as a child, Kane has dedicated a significant portion of her life to making a positive environmental impact.
“One of the most memorable things from my childhood was when a woman came to our school and taught us about sustainability and how our earth is at risk,” Ken said. “From that moment on, I remember thinking, ‘I want to save the world.’ And I knew it wasn’t one person’s job.
A 2019 graduate of Illinois State University’s Sustainable and Renewable Energy program, Ken has worked at Rivian since 2020. The growing electric vehicle manufacturer operates a 3.3 million-square-foot factory that employs more than 7,000 people in the landscape, four miles away. West of the Illinois State University campus, where it produces R1T pickup trucks, R1S sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and an EDV (electric delivery van) for Amazon.
Several Illinois State students have interned at Rivian, and a number of graduates have been employed by the electric vehicle maker. As Rivian continues to grow its workforce, Illinois State hosted a career exploration panel with Rivian and a networking event, showcasing the R1T and R1S in the Bone Student Center’s Brown Ballroom on October 2.
“Electric vehicles are truly the wave of the future,” Ken said. “We are on the cusp of this change from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles, and it is amazing to be a part of that.”
As a Launch Services Consultant, Keene travels the country visiting Rivian’s expanding network of service centers. She assists customers while also training and coaching the new service advisors located at each center.
“My degree from Illinois State really helps me understand the technical side of things,” Ken said. “We learned about electricity in depth, which helped me teach it. If I didn’t understand it completely, it would be very difficult for me to teach someone new to our company.”
Rivian trucks, designed for off-road adventures, are popular because they meet customers’ wants and needs, Ken said. The fact that it’s electric is a bonus.
“In order for everyone to participate in the transition to electric vehicles, we have to meet them where they are,” Ken said. “Being part of Rivian, I can say for sure that we get interested customers because it’s a truck, and that’s great.”
After working in various retail, hospitality, and medical jobs for nearly 15 years, Kane earned her associate’s degree from Heartland Community College in 2017. While at Heartland, she took a professional aptitude test, which, not surprisingly, suggested she pursue environmental work . The Sustainable and Renewable Energy major at Illinois State seemed like the perfect place for Kane to continue her college career.
“When I was accepted, it was very exciting, and I knew this was going to change the course of my life,” Ken said.
She was initially concerned about entering the program in the technology department without any technical experience. But Dr. Matt Aldman, associate professor of technology, was quick to reassure Kane.
“I went to my first class, and Dr. Aldman was talking about wind speed, and I had no idea what he was talking about. So, I met him after class, and his and Dr. Jin Gu’s willingness to help me — not coming from a technical background — was incredible,” he said. “Ken said. “They made it understandable, and it became something that was no longer an obstacle for me.”
As a student, Kane immersed herself in the RSO and Honors Program. She even participated in a study abroad trip.
“During my time at ESU, I was definitely trying to absorb everything I could,” Kane said. “I wanted to learn as much as I could.”
During its final year, in the fall of 2019, Rivian revealed its design for the R1 pickup truck. “It was really exciting to have this in our backyard,” Ken said. “And I remember thinking I wanted to work for Rivian.”
Keene spent two years managing programs at the Ecology Action Center before joining Rivian as a customer service specialist in 2020. Now, she can’t imagine working anywhere else.
“People are getting to move around, and being able to be part of the transformation of something our generation has only ever known is gasoline-powered — it’s really cool,” Ken said. “It’s very satisfying, I come to work every day excited, and I know I’m doing something good.”
Ken returned to Illinois State University on October 13 to receive the Technology Department’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award. She also spoke with a group of nearly 50 high school students who were visiting the campus as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded SUPERCHARGE program.
Kane said students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) should consider what she has found to be an impactful and personally rewarding career in sustainable and renewable energy.
“I’m not doing this alone,” Kane said. “This is a movement. We’re working to save the planet. For me, it’s very satisfying.”