After graduating from Nashoba Regional High School as a star cross-country and track athlete, Brendon Aylaian tried a couple of different colleges, first in Colorado and then closer to home in Massachusetts.
He soon realized that he was just burnt out on competitive running and school, so he decided to try a different challenge: the U.S. Army. He served as an infantryman in the elite Army Rangers for four-and-a-half years, deploying to Afghanistan and earning the rank of specialist. 
During his final year in the Rangers, he returned to school and earned an associate degree in business, studying online through a community college in Washington. Then, he returned to Massachusetts and applied to UMass Lowell, which is ranked among U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges for Veterans.”
This time, college is proving to be a better experience. Aylaian is majoring in business management, and he plans to go on for his MBA. A senior, he’s already taking graduate classes that count toward both degrees through the university’s bachelor’s-to-master’s program.
He’s also a student in the Honors College, which has exposed him to new opportunities and experiences – especially, he says, in renewable energy, thanks to an honors seminar taught by Physics Prof. Robert Giles: The Science of Energy.
Aylaian enjoyed the class so much that he’s now working as a research assistant with the Haiti Development Studies Center, which Giles founded and directs. Aylaian is doing market research, working with a nonprofit that wants to bring a small solar grid to Simone, a tiny village in southern Haiti. The work will be his honors capstone project.
“I’m looking at how much energy they’re going to need, how big the households are, how much demand each household is going to have, and how are they going to be able to afford the maintenance,” he says. 
He’s also researching everything from affordable smart meters for each household to demographic information about the village itself, which is so small that it doesn’t appear on Google maps. The only place Aylaian has found any demographic information is in a World Bank document. 
He hopes to learn more when he visits Haiti with Giles and other students working on projects for the Haiti Development Studies Center, once travel becomes safe again. In the meantime, he’s happy to be working on a meaningful project that’s also great experience for a possible career in the renewable energy industry.
“There are a lot of people in the world who don’t have access to even the most basic levels of electricity, or if they do, it’s extremely erratic,” he says. “Being part of a team that is focused on delivering energy to people who don’t have it just seems like a really good thing to do.”