There is an old saying that “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and perhaps nothing validates this more than what so many of us have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all now familiar with / more comfortable with the constant flexing of plans based on the state of the world around us.
Case in point: reaching individuals who care about and/or are involved in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) activities.
To do this, the Science Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce development project team* introduced in October 2020 the virtual STEM Dialogue Series, an ongoing workshop series designed to: engage members from industry and academia; share project updates; and, most importantly, obtain stakeholder feedback and learn about their priorities.
*The STEM workforce development projects team is represented by individuals from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and the Hydropower Foundation.
The purpose of the STEM Dialogue workshops is to encourage and help build a talented, inclusive waterpower workforce. To date, the workshops have attracted 150+ participants representing industry, government, and academia.
Anyone interested in helping pinpoint the needs of industry and academia is welcome to join the virtual STEM Dialogue Series workshops. To be notified of upcoming workshops and events, sign up to receive the Hydropower Foundation newsletter. Or, visit the “Summits, Workshops, and Events” page on the STEM for Hydro or STEM for Marine Energy Education websites.
BUILDING AN ONLINE PORTAL OF RESOURCES TO SHARE WITH EDUCATORS
During the virtual workshops, the STEM workforce development project team unveiled the STEM for Marine Energy and STEM for Hydro educational portals. Essentially, the portals are one-stop shops for any educator from grammar to secondary education and beyond.
In addition to educators, these publicly available portals are proving useful to students and to renewable energy enthusiasts.
The online portals include educational materials, such as virtual tours of hydropower facilities and marine energy testing sites.
The portals also feature “Day-in-the-Life” videos – in which professionals in marine energy and hydropower share their insights of what it’s like to work in these two sectors. Two of the latest videos were released in 2021, highlighting Allison Frechette, a compliance specialist at Brookfield Renewable, and Vicki Hoffman, operations and maintenance manager with the Bureau of Reclamation.
Additionally, one can find “Teach the Teacher” kits that provide hands-on activities, so teachers have a fun way to explore hydropower in the classroom. Additionally, teachers gain access to “all-new” hydropower curricula developed by project partners at the National Energy Education Development Project, for any educator who wants to include the topic in their general curriculum.
The STEM workforce development project team encourages anyone reading this article to share the URLs for the portals — STEM for Marine Energy and STEM for Hydro — with the educators you know: your children’s or grandchildren’s teachers; your relatives that are educators; and schools in your local communities.
The more we all share the availability of these resources, the more waterpower will be talked about in the classroom.
GETTING UNIVERSITY STUDENTS INTERESTED IN WATERPOWER
Another topic explored during the virtual workshops has been how to encourage university student interest in relevant waterpower-related careers as well as how to introduce students to professionals working in conventional hydropower and marine energy industry sectors.
An effective way to do this is through the offering of university-level competitions.
One workshop in the STEM Dialogue Series provided a sounding board to gain feedback and lessons learned on the Marine Energy Collegiate Competition. This annual competition – launched in 2020 — provides undergraduates with a hands-on opportunity to work on industry challenges and network with professionals to explore careers in marine energy.
Workshop attendees identified ways to make future competitions more valuable for participants and university partners and, ultimately, improve the competition’s ability to attract the academic community to waterpower.
Some specific ideas coming out of the workshop:
- Link Marine Energy Collegiate Competition participants to information about certificates or other industry credentials
- Invite industry professionals to coach participants
- Provide activities like career mapping and mentorship, especially in underserved communities
Also, during the STEM Dialogue Series, the workshop attendees called for a replication of the competition for conventional hydropower. Look for a special announcement the week of April 4, 2022, during the National Hydropower Association’s Waterpower Week in Washington event regarding this recommendation.
BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS TO ADVANCE EDUCATION, WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
During one of the STEM Dialogue Series workshops, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation introduced a new creative tool targeted for the Pacific Northwest. The Water Power Clean Energy Talent Development Hub is designed to bring together utility workers, educational professionals in both K–12 and postsecondary, tribes, and workforce development stakeholders to build a regional education model to advance equitable water power education and workforce development.
Once built, the model could be replicated in other regions throughout the United States.
In addition to this Clean Energy Talent Development Hub, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation — with support from the Bonneville Power Administration Technical Innovation Group and regional partners in government, industry, and academia – has launched its “CE – Clean Energy. Bright Futures.” Program.
The purpose of the program is to work with teacher leaders and utility industry professionals in the Pacific Northwest to expand public awareness and understanding of the role of hydropower and other clean energy technologies play in creating a resilient and equitable clean energy future.
The STEM workforce development project team is also working with the Clean Energy Education & Workforce Alliance. In February 2022, the team presented on the topic of expanding the clean energy talent ecosystem for an equitable low-carbon future during the Alliance’s Clean Energy Education Summit.