Vadim Zheglov knows how to make the most of opportunities that come his way.

Zheglov, born and raised in Russia, moved to Germany with his family as an adolescent and studied electrical engineering in Germany at the university level. In 2005, he found an opportunity to go to the United States as an exchange student at Tennessee Technical University. Seven years later, Zheglov not only had been back and forth between the United States and Germany several times, but he had also completed his German degree, finished an internship in Germany, landed a competitive internship in the United States and eventually signed on as a power systems consultant with electric power research, engineering and consulting firm EnerNex of Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S.

Oh, and on that initial trip, he also met and fell in love with a Tennessee farm girl named Casey, who would later become his wife. They were married earlier this year.

“I didn't know what Tennessee was until I flew into Nashville,” Zheglov recalls of his introduction to the United States in 2005. He came for the fall semester, went back to Germany for the holidays and then came back for spring semester. The following year, he was finishing his studies in Germany, which called for a four-month internship, when he heard about a new research assistant opportunity back at Tennessee Tech. The field was power, while Zheglov studied to be an automation engineer, he was eager to try out on-the-job training in another field, an experience he calls invaluable to a young engineer entering the workforce.

In Europe, Zheglov explains, the internship model is “much more advanced” and has become a standard system by which future employees and employers check out each other — something he would like to see catch on at a grander scale in the United States.

“People choose their profession by going to college, but this gives you an opportunity to really try it out, professionally, to say, am I even going to enjoy this?” Zheglov posits. “Is it fun, does it make me want to keep doing this? Also, am I any good at it? Do I want to go into production or research or manufacturing? Do I enjoy research more than manufacturing? I have always thought an internship was a great possibility to learn something and see if I would enjoy and if I would be capable.”

Zheglov was, in fact, one of the first interns at EnerNex. The company offered him a full-time job approximately five months into his internship, in early 2011, once it became clear to both Zheglov and EnerNex that he was right for the company and that it was the right opportunity for him. He ticks off several benefits that internship programs offer to companies.

“You have somebody who can help you out with the basic tasks, but you can also identify a person's skills and interests in an area,” he explains. “If the budget is tight, you may not be able to assign a full-time person to a project but can use interns for shorter periods of time to research and test out ideas. They get to learn by doing, and they also get to see how the company actually operates and what the environment is like.”

In his current position as a power systems consultant, Zheglov focuses largely on integration impacts of renewable energy generation on power systems, including modeling load flow and conducting transient and harmonic studies regarding the addition of wind, solar and other renewable power sources onto the grid. His knowledge and experience of the European grid — particularly Germany's grid — have helped him observe and note the differences in renewable energy adoption rates between the two countries.

“It is interesting how fast PV [photovoltaic] grew in Germany, you saw PV on the roofs of so many houses in Germany,” he starts out. “It grew dramatically, with so many government incentives provided. North American utilities are interested in finding some of the limits and issues that may occur when PV distributed generation becomes pervasive in the grid — that is one of the fields we are particularly active in, nowadays.”

He also notes the cultural and historical differences between Germany and the United States. “Germany is roughly half the size of Texas but has six to seven times the population density of the United States. You just have two systems that grew based on different conditions and requirements.”

Zheglov's own personal history was shaped by his original study abroad experience and future job and internship in ways he probably could not have imagined in 2005, when he first met Casey.

“I am more or less a city slicker, I grew up in cities,” Zheglov notes. “But when I got here, I moved into my dorm room in this new country, and about a week later, my roommate moved in with help from some of his friends. One of those friends was a Tennessee farm girl. Her parents and uncle live on a farm. That is where I have spent my weekends of the last several years, it is where we got married, and now she is my wife!”

Spoken like a man who knows how to make the most of his opportunities.