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UMass and Springfield High School of Science and Technology Collaborate on $160,000 Clean Energy Project Funded by Massachusetts Clean Energy Center

Erin Baker

Erin Baker

Professor Erin Baker of our Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department and her doctoral student Moijue Kaikai have secured a $160,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to fund a sustainable-energy project carried out collaboratively by UMass Amherst and the Springfield High School of Science and Technology (HSST). The grant will support the establishment of a so-called Learn and Earn Program while generating interest in the renewable energy field. The funded program will not only install a solar panel and wind turbine on the HSST campus but will also create an engineering and sustainability class for 25 high-school students and an eight-week, summertime, paid internship in hands-on clean energy for those students.

As an article explained in the Greenfield Recorder on July 21, “A Springfield high school has teamed up with the University of Massachusetts Amherst to land a state grant to install a solar panel and a wind turbine on its school campus. The goal? To boost student interest in the energy field, as well as in STEM careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Baker and Kaikai teamed with Paula Rees and Ryan Wicks from the College of Engineering Diversity Programs Office to write the proposal submitted to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center for this partnership between UMass Amherst, HSST, and the company Spirit Solar. The centerpiece will be the installation of a wind and solar hybrid electricity generation array, with an energy dashboard installed at HSST. In addition, the program will offer a specialized elective on renewable energy that will build on a hands-on renewable energy course taught by Sandra Lambert, the engineering and computer science elective teacher at HSST, during the second semester of the 2017-2018 school year.

As the proposal said, “A primary goal in education should be to help foster and instill a student’s sense of fascination and awe with a subject of study; to develop a sense of meaning or purpose within each student, such that each student is genuinely invested in [his or her] own learning.”

The proposal for the Learn and Earn Program provides a range of learning opportunities with a focus on the design and construction of the wind and solar hybrid electricity generation array, which will serve as the nexus of the curriculum outlined in the proposal. The project will include classroom lessons and lab exercises, KidWind projects, visits to renewable energy project sites and to laboratories at UMass Amherst, and career mentorship from Sprit Solar’s industry professionals.

“This mechanism of instruction will provide immediate and clear context and practice for the skills and knowledge students will develop over the course of the curriculum,” the proposal explained. “It will also provide the central motivation, as students will build a system that will supplement the power of their own school or a lab at UMass, and will directly impact their own community.”

The development of the wind and solar hybrid array will not only function as the focal educational experience for the students that build it, but once built, the kiosk and access to the array will support the renewable energy curriculum at the school in subsequent years. “An often overlooked but crucial aspect of renewable energy development is public engagement and education to garner support for the project, future projects, and renewable energy portfolios as a whole,” the proposal said.

Wicks, an adjunct faculty member with the UMass School of Public Policy who also serves as the outreach coordinator for the Diversity Programs Office, brings past experience as a high-school mathematics and physics instructor and will assist in developing the curriculum for the summer activities.  Spirit Solar’s Mike Kocsmiersky brings over 20 years of industry experience and will also assist in the development of curriculum and oversee the construction and installation process.

The project will also place a special emphasis on engaging and educating the minority students attending HSST.

“As the final phase of our Learn and Earn Program, students will participate in public engagement and education, which will include presenting the projects at the National Society of Black Engineers National Conference and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers National Conference,” according to the proposal. (August 2017)