Clean energy and climate change: they’re not just buzzwords, but topics of great concern to the scientific community. That community isn’t exclusive to PhDs, engineers, and researchers; it also includes an innovative and dedicated group of high schoolers that make up the Clean Energy Corps.
“The Clean Energy Corps began in 2015 as a unique collaboration between Boston Green Academy, Boston University, and several industry partners to create a program that prepares Boston high school students for clean energy and STEM occupations and postsecondary majors,” Clinical Associate Professor of Science Education Don DeRosa said. Dr. DeRosa serves as the Principal Investigator on the grant, issued by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Council, which has funded the program for the past two summers.
This summer, the program brought together 12 high school students from Boston Green Academy, Revere High School, and Norfolk County Agricultural High School for a seven-week, hands-on experience building and testing portable, instructional carts that produce energy powered by technologies such as photovoltaics, solar thermal, heat pumps, and wind power.
The students worked in the BU College of Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC), and recently presented their carts to Dr. DeRosa, demonstrating how each could be used in a classroom context to teach their peers, and younger students, about clean energy.
“Each technology serves as the focus of a unit-long module that incorporates hands-on learning projects in conjunction with an academic component that aligns with the Massachusetts Physics Frameworks,” Dr. DeRosa said. Students also gain practical skills such as mechanical assembly, soldering, wiring, piping, programming controllers, and using test equipment.
Notably, the students– who ranged from sophomores to recently graduated seniors– are paid for their time.
“The experience is run as a startup company,” Dr. DeRosa said. “This opened up many other possible avenues for student engagement and development of core skills in an authentic workplace context.”
He added that, for example, in addition to refining their technology designs, students learned how to work within budgetary constraints, create business plans, and produce marketing materials. They did this all under the guidance of program directors, and SED Master of Teaching alums, Chris Windle (SED’15) and Peter Kane (SED’15).
“The goal of the program is to educate high school students about clean energy science and technology by building three types of instructional carts,” Mr. Kane, a teacher at Norfolk County Agricultural High School, said. Prior to his current role, Mr. Kane was a mechanical engineer for 37 years. “Along the way, they are also learning about entrepreneurship, climate change, computer aided design and manufacturing, and more. We’re trying to prepare them for jobs and/or continued education in STEM.”
And, if it wasn’t enough that the experience is a paid one for the high school students, they also may have the gratification of actually seeing their carts sold to and used by schools.
“We believe there is a market for the carts.They fulfill a market niche,” Mr. Kane said. “There seems to be only two hardware options right now for teaching high school students about clean energy – cheap toys such as solar cars and expensive, ultra complicated training carts for professional technicians. We are not in a position to sell anything yet but there is the possibility of starting a company.”
Mr. Windle, who was part of the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program during his time at SED, added that the carts that the students built were designed to be used in a variety of classrooms for different age ranges.
“While the students may not be actively implementing environmental solutions through our program,” he said, “they are gaining a great experience helping to design and create a product — the carts, lesson plans, marketing tools– that will allow schools to better serve their students by providing tools to teach about sustainable energy.”
The hope is for the group to continue to receive funding from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Council to continue the program, and develop complete curriculums and carts to sell to schools.