My Giving Story: Pavel Molchanov ’03

Pavel Molchanov writes about, and contributes to, a more sustainable future.

It’s rare for anyone to plan their estate at age 40, but Pavel Molchanov is an uncommon guy. He has worked for the same company his entire career. He is a longtime North Carolinian who isn’t a basketball fan. And he is planning to leave Duke more than $2 million in his will.

Molchanov has been in the right place at the right time too often to consider it luck. His career as a renewable energy analyst at Raymond James & Associates was jump-started by his economics education at Duke, which was capped by a senior thesis on the oil market. Early in his finance career, he decided to shift from traditional energy to renewables, long before that was a popular thing to do.

Early success in his career, combined with his sustained devotion to Duke, presented Molchanov an opportunity to ensure that he could repay the university that awarded him a full-ride A.B. Duke scholarship and launched him professionally. Molchanov has always been a quick study with a well-honed sense for what’s important in work and in life. One of those important things is giving back to repay the opportunities he has received so others can enjoy the same advantages.

Portrait of Pavel Molchanov

That’s why, in his late 30s, Molchanov decided to bequeath Duke a percentage of his estate. And why, as he turned 40, he amended it to clarify that the amount will be larger than previously estimated. He wanted to be sure that the university receives its due.

“One of the reasons why I’m allocating a sizeable portion of my estate to student scholarships at Duke is precisely because I understand the value of access to education at a top university for students who may not have the financial resources to afford it,” Molchanov says. “Education is not cheap, especially at private schools. Duke was crucial for me. Without financial aid, I couldn’t attend Duke, and that was a game changer.”

As an undergrad, Molchanov served as a resident assistant for three years — all on East Campus. “No loud parties,” he quips. “It was actually very conducive to studying.” Molchanov also worked as a columnist at The Chronicle for five semesters, which he credits as a big part of his success in financial writing. Along with his writing-intensive classes at Duke, student journalism helped him put ideas on paper succinctly and effectively — on deadline. “I am very appreciative of both the academic writing preparation and my experience at The Chronicle for developing me as a writer,” he says.

Writing a thesis about OPEC production quotas helped get him a job in energy research, which in the early 2000s meant mostly oil and gas. Molchanov describes pivoting from petroleum to green energy as an “intense” and “exciting” change with global relevance.

“I’ve written probably as much about European policy, Chinese policy … about Brazil and Australia and Canada and Saudi Arabia as I’ve written about what’s happening in Washington,” Molchanov says. “It’s just a very exciting, very dynamic field. With the possible exception of the technology sector, nothing has changed as much in the last 15 years as the energy sector.”

His professional interest in sustainability melds with a personal one. Molchanov serves on the board of visitors of the Institute for the Environment at UNC-Chapel Hill and on the advisory board for Cool Effect, a small California nonprofit that funds sustainable energy projects primarily in developing countries. He has also funded the Molchanov Sustainability Internship Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an international policy think tank better known as Chatham House. His program supports four internships for young people interested in sustainability issues.

Molchanov’s connection to and affection for Duke have never wavered in the almost two decades since his graduation. Eventually, his legacy gift will help clear a path for undergraduate and graduate students to study economics at Duke.

“The purpose of the gift, the proceeds, are allocated to scholarships, for individuals who I hope will have an opportunity in the future for an education that some of them might not be able to afford otherwise,” he says. “The point is to create access to a diverse constituency. Economics happens to be what I studied. I’m not saying it’s the most important thing. Nonetheless, having skilled professionals go into the world of business or government or the nonprofit sector — economics touches on everything. Hopefully, in a limited way, my bequest will be able to serve this mission of greater accessibility.”

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About the author

Greg Jenkins

Greg’s work includes publications, proposals, reports, collateral materials and web content. He joined University Development in July 2012 after a stint with Duke Medicine Marketing & Creative Services. Before that, Greg worked as editor of Wildlife in North Carolina magazine, and spent more than a decade as a sportswriter covering everything from Little League to ACC basketball. A North Carolina native and lifelong resident, he holds a BA in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill and lives in Durham with his wonderful wife and two young sons.