Hong Ren Zhang Durandal

Many business majors just hope to get a good job once they’re out of college. Berea College senior Hong Durandal, however, can’t wait that long. He has started his own local energy consulting firm — Energy Hunters — which he runs and balances with his schoolwork and labor position at the college. This isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky, glorified lemonade stand business, either. Oh no, you can watch former president Bill Clinton speak about Energy Hunters at its website (link below). Obviously, this is a great achievement regardless of the circumstances, but it is especially impressive if you know Hong’s unconventional journey to America, to Berea, and to the field of sustainability.

Hong first heard about Berea College from one of his teachers at his high school in Bolivia. He was an excellent student throughout his school years and also a great volunteer. He worked with underprivileged children, teaching them English and helping them with their math lessons. His teacher thought he would be a great fit for Berea College, and she was right. Hong’s academic record and potential, his drive to succeed, and his inclination to help others are all traits Berea College looks for, and motivates, in its students. Founded by abolitionist pastors in the mid 1800s, Berea College has historically encouraged an interracial and coeducational setting, when state and federal laws have allowed, for students who come from backgrounds where they otherwise might not have had the opportunity to afford a college education. Primarily serving students from Appalachia, Berea has recently made great strides to recruit international students. Currently, 7% of Berea College students come from another country.

Hong seized the opportunity and applied to Berea College his senior year. “It was a life-changing opportunity,” Hong recounts, “I was full of joy and could not really believe the great opportunity that was waiting for me. I was the only one in my entire country in a very long time to go abroad with such an amazing opportunity to study in the U.S.” Coming to Berea was a major transition, though. Not only did Hong have to adjust to college life, but he had to do it in a country foreign to his own. However, “at the beginning everything was beautiful and wonderful,” Hong explains, “I wanted to learn and develop with every new experience I encountered. That feeling of being interested about new things helped me cope with the new culture and adapt fairly quickly.” Although he was alone in the States, he formed friends quickly, and excelled in his studies.

Early on at Berea, Hong discovered and joined Berea’s Entrepreneurship for the Public Good program (EPG). The EPG program encourages and instructs students to become organizers and innovators in their local communities. Durandal refers to his time with EPG as “one of the most significant periods in my education. I truly connected with the faculty and staff. Dr. [Peter] Hackbert, EPG Director, and Mr. [David] Cooke, program coordinator of EPG, were always open to help me beyond the classroom. I connected to them as friends and mentors that guided me through my entrepreneurial growth.”

It was this experience and the knowledge he gained from his classes that led him to create Energy Hunters, a firm that helps businesses, households, and institutions realize energy savings, as well as improve their comfort, health, and safety. “Our goal is to make sure energy is truly saved and reported accordingly,” explains Hong, who coordinates the energy audits and improvements as well as being in charge of the core operations and developing new opportunities.

“Energy is the backbone of any country, especially the United States, who is currently leading the world in consumption of fossil fuels,” Hong states. He promotes using alternative forms of energy, but what he really focuses on is energy efficiency. Says Hong, “While doing my 2010 internship, I encountered numerous unprivileged families in Texas that had to sacrifice their comfort and even their health to try to lower their high energy bills. The ability to reduce an energy bill, or in some way help a family gave me pride in what I was doing.”

With humble beginnings, Energy Hunters started as a project to perform energy audits for six members of Sustainable Berea. Now it has state and federal recognition through the ENERGY STAR program and other housing authority entities, and has been recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative.

Though it keeps him busy, Hong thoroughly enjoys his work. “I love the independence and creativity that can come through working with other businesses.” Building relationships is Hong’s “favorite part.” He has big plans for Energy Hunters, too, “The ultimate goal is to expand globally and use the potential of energy efficiency as a stepping stone for a renewable energy future, when the world will be able to use efficient renewable energy much easier than it is able to today.”

Hong is a hard worker, a true entrepreneur and an innovator. He will go very far with his skills in this uncertain economy on a planet with an uncertain future. He gives much thanks and appreciation to Berea College for coming this far. “There are several lessons I have learned at Berea College that serve me for my business and my life. All the tools of business that the business department taught me have been essential. Another lesson is to appreciate people for their assistance and help. Being able to practice that in my life has made me a good entrepreneur and human being. Another important lesson that I remember: The first convocation I attended featured (Berea College) President Shinn, whose message was to learn to live simply and in a sustainable way, and to enjoy the simple things in life. This is the greatest lesson I will take with me.”

Categories: News, People, Programs and Initiatives
Tags: Clinton, Energy Hunters, entrepreneurship, EPG, International Students

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 41 states and 76 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.