Two of the most pressing issues we face today are finding new sources of clean energy and recovering from the recession that has been devastating our country. Increasingly, these two issues are tied together, as many of our leaders--in government, industry, science and education--have come to view the transition to alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, natural gas, geothermal and hydropower as one path toward growing our economy and creating new jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor's National Renewable Energy Laboratory Web site states the belief that renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development is only part of the new energy future equation.
"Educating students, teachers and consumers is the other key to finding new renewable ways to power our homes, businesses and cars."
There appears to be a great deal of agreement on the need for alternative energy sources; however, there is also a great deal of work ahead for our nation in developing those sources, building the systems that will deliver them, and training the workforce needed to create and sustain the emerging industry of alternative energy.
A Vision that Begins in High School
Wayne Technical and Career Center (WTCC) in Williamson, New York, is a program of the Wayne-Finger Lakes Board of Cooperative Educational Services. WTCC offers more than 400 students from 11 school districts in Wayne County the opportunity to obtain the skills they will need to transition into college, the workplace or the military. Many of the programs follow a nationally recognized curriculum, and students may earn technical endorsements on their diplomas. They also have the opportunity to participate in work experiences such as internships, co-ops and job shadowing, as well as the opportunity to join career and technical student organizations, among them Skills USA and Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA).
One of the programs offered at WTCC is called New Vision Renewable Energy. This one-year interdisciplinary program is open to seniors who are interested in exploring the technical, economic, governmental and political aspects of designing and installing renewable/alternative energy systems. Students apply to the program during their junior year, but there are some prerequisites for admission. They must be academically strong in the sciences, possess basic knowledge of residential and commercial wiring/electrical theory, and be planning to attend postsecondary education or training. Among the other attributes required are being able to work both independently and on a team, the desire to be outside in the elements--and as teacher James Buck notes, the students must exhibit maturity. They also have to submit a well-written essay and a recommendation from their home high school counselor, science or technology teacher.
According to WTCC Principal Craig Logan, although the program officially started four years ago, the planning for it began when they reintroduced electrical trades about eight or nine years ago. As a career tech educator of adults and high school students, Buck recognized the changes occurring in the industry and began learning about renewable energy so he would be prepared to teach the skills his students would need for the future. "With the changes over the years in the electrical field, electricians have to change or be unemployed," he explains. "So I started teaching students about category 5 wire and fiber optics and then added solar and wind so they could see the different avenues available to them."
With the first grant of $1,000 from a local teacher resource center, WTCC was able to install a small solar array system. It has since received grants from the N.Y. State Energy Resource Development Authority for a solar array and wind turbine, and plans are in the works for a solar thermal installation with photovoltaic panels. …