Wagner plans to work in clean energy on policies that create equity for low-income residents.
Headshot of Maxwell Wagner
Maxwell Wagner

Maxwell Wagner, MPP Class of 2024, went to college at Northeastern University in Boston knowing he was interested in sustainability. "However, I was not sure where I fit into the field. I didn’t have the traditional science or engineering background, so I decided to major in finance and see if I could carve out an area within sustainability related to that.”

While at Northeastern, Wagner completed an experiential learning co-op program, first in a more traditional finance role with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and later with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). “MassCEC is where I found my interest in clean energy. They are a quasi-government economic development agency for the clean energy sector, and I helped support a team investing in early-stage startups. I really enjoyed being around innovative startups who are making a social and environmental impact.”

That interest drew Wagner to spend his last co-op experience—and more than a year after he graduated in 2020—at Sunwealth, a clean energy investment firm that provides businesses, community organizations and individuals access to affordable clean energy. For Wagner, the most meaningful part of that work was interviewing those who benefitted from the solar projects and sharing their stories.

“One solar project that I’ll never forget was small in size, but big in impact. It was on the rooftop of a food pantry and delivered $400 in annual savings. After asking what $400 in savings means to the organization, the Executive Director said that many of their patrons are unhoused and come in wearing wet socks. The pantry provides a fresh pair to anyone in need. ‘$400 doesn’t sound like much, but it buys a lot of socks.’

“It’s important that we build a clean energy economy that includes everyone. While massive solar farms may get a lot of praise for their climate impact, the financial benefits often go to corporate investors. At Sunwealth, I learned to view energy projects through an equity lens.”

That experience sparked Wagner’s interest in public policy. “State, local, and federal policies have a huge impact on what clean energy projects get built and who benefits from them.”

Wagner chose to pursue his Master of Public Policy (MPP) from Harris because he wanted to learn both coding and storytelling. “The emphasis on data really interested me as someone who came from a business school and felt somewhat at a disadvantage compared with people who had more coding experience. A lot of jobs require coding, and I wanted to make sure that I went to a school that valued both technical and soft skills.”

Now an incoming student, Wagner looks forward to joining Harris Student Organizations such as UC3P, the student-led podcast, as well as OUTPolitik, the LGBTQ+ organization, where he hopes to find community. “I came out as gay to friends and family during college, but I still hid that part of my identity in professional and academic circles. I want to change that at UChicago by working with other queer-identifying students to advocate for LGBTQ+ policy issues on and off campus.”