THE LOW DOWN: Southeastern Nebraska has a lot of energy. Literally. The region is home to Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper Nuclear Station and Omaha Public Power District’s Nebraska City Station (a coal-fired energy plant). Educators in the region saw an opportunity to provide students with a unique opportunity that would expose them to a world of learning and career opportunities.
THE CHALLENGE: In a part of the state where thousands of jobs are provided by local energy production companies, how can energy companies recruit new, young talent to replace an aging and retiring workforce? And how can educators give their students a leg up and prepare them to succeed in the real world?
THE CHAMPIONS: Suzanne Whisler, Mitzi Hoback and Holly Carr - ESU4; John Pierce - Southeast Community College; Marc Serrett – OPPD; Meshelle Ferguson and Chad Johnson – NPPD; Nebraska Department of Education, and instructors and administration from Auburn, Humboldt, Tecumseh, Lewiston, Nebraska City and Palmyra. Grant funding from Carl D. Perkins consortium.
THE SOLUTION: Students in ESU 4 love energy. For many of them energy is the family business, and the opportunity to learn and explore careers in this ever-growing field is the reason the Energy Academy program is one of the most successful of its kind in the region. The program was modeled after other successful Academy Programs across the state.
The mission of ESU 4’s Energy Academy is simple: “…to provide opportunities for real world learning and application in the science and business of energy generation & distribution.” Educators knew that to accomplish this mission they would need to secure partnerships with outside experts. They found willing partners at the Nebraska and Omaha Public Power Districts and Southeast Community College (SCC) where education specialists and human resources executives saw value in educating the region’s young people about careers in the energy industry. Together they worked to develop an intensive semester-long curriculum that incorporated lessons about all different types of energy in a fun and interactive environment.
THE RESULTS: Once the idea of the Energy Academy was presented, it took a dedicated group of people from Southwest Community College, NPPD, OPPD and ESU4 to develop a curriculum that was both fun and meaningful. They used existing lesson plans from the education specialists at NPPD and OPPD, coursework from SCC, and newly developed lessons from science and math teachers at ESU 4 schools to create a curriculum that has high school juniors and seniors lining up to participate.
The program is designed to appeal to students interested in science, math and hands-on learning. Classroom time tends to be less about “book learning” and more about experiments that illustrate important energy concepts. Students learn about all forms of energy by comparing different types to learn the pros and cons of each. From nuclear to coal to wind and other alternative energies, the curriculum is well-rounded and in tune with current trends in energy production.
The final “capstone” course, which can be completed both online and in the classroom, is in partnership with SCC. Once students complete the entire course of study, they’ll have finished the equivalent of SCC’s Energy Operations course, earning college credit.
- Partners are key: The Energy Academy is unique in that it counts on support from a unique partnership which blends education with business and industry. This type of partner is instrumental to bringing real-world experience to the table, offering kids a unique and up-close look at opportunities in the industry. It’s also helpful when the partners have existing educational programs that can be easily plugged into the curriculum.
- Create an advisory board: Made up of representatives from business/industry, parents and ESU4 administrators and teachers, the Energy Academy advisory board oversaw the development of the curriculum. This well-rounded group of experts helped create a fun and comprehensive program that continues to evolve as the industry does.
- Create a curriculum that focuses on education and career planning: Students cite career planning as one of the most valuable aspects of the Energy Academy program. Not only do they learn important (and interesting!) lessons about science principles, but they also learn about professional opportunities that are available to them after high school and/or college. Not only is this valuable to the students, but it makes for a good recruitment tool for HR executives at energy companies that are always looking to grow their workforce.
- Keep it interesting: Safe cracking and electrifying Hershey kisses as ways to learn important energy principles? All in a day’s work at the Energy Academy. Fun experiments like these make the Energy Academy a popular course of study for students with all kinds of interests.
Click the Links below for more information:
- Energy Academy Wiki
- Nebraska Public Power District
- Omaha Public Power District
- Southeast Community College