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Creating Investments for the Future: Back to School Edition

Happy September! With the winding down of summer, it also means that our kids are back at school – and this year, as with last year, it’s a complicated start. My oldest son has moved into his college dorm and classes began last week. My 10th grader started up Marching Band a few weeks ago and is happier than I’ve seen him since COVID began. And my 2nd grader’s classes are known as the “Brainy Bunch” and she’s diving into her learning. My kids are masked, the older ones are vaxxed, and we as a family are managing risk and living our lives as best as we are able. The only path now is “future-forward” – but, in reality, that’s the way it always is.

It’s also time for all of us, as professionals, to consider how to engage students in our lives and in our work. They not only need to learn, they also thrive in being able to practically apply skills and knowledge to affect the world. As we’re getting ready for back to school, we’re highlighting a few organizations that work hard to engage students and young adults in the utility industry, motivating them to make a difference as they’re growing up in the face of climate change.

Best Earth Ever Project

BEE Project ( is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to training the next generation’s green workforce. This past year, four San Antonio ISD students devised an energy savings plan to cut District energy usage by 5% in the current school year. The students created an interactive poster to hang in 700 classrooms, challenging students and teachers to shut down classrooms at the end of the day. Teachers or students can mark off the days with a dry erase marker. The interns have also produced a video and website (the Student Energy Engagement initiative) to drive energy conservation and the transportation department is planning on printing magnets of the posters for the sides of buses. The paid internships are a partnership between CAST Tech High School, CPS Energy and BEE Project.

BEE Project is looking for other school districts and utilities to partner on these programs – contact BEE Project to start an internship in your area!

Here are two more examples for you to consider…

Good Neighbor Ambassador (Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District)

While a program designed for high school graduates, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s (NEORSD’s) Good Neighbor Ambassador program has elements that can be directed to summer or schoolyear student internships. Good Neighbor Ambassadors are hired by the District to act as “liaisons between the District, various community and business organizations, and the general public,” focusing on the largest active construction projects. The Ambassadors engage directly with residents about the projects happening in their neighborhood, not only the project status and schedule but why the project is happening and how the project will benefit the community. The position also involves clean-up and maintenance work; participation in educational, professional development and community engagement activities; and career development training to position them for full-time employment. One Ambassador, Taylor Miller, engaged with her community of Glenville, Ohio to understand NEORSD’s project to store and treat Combined Sewer Overflows, reducing pollution in the community’s waterways.

NEORSD presented on the Good Neighbor Ambassadors program at the U.S. Water Alliance’s Building the Water Workforce webinar.

Vermont Energy Education Project

I’ve seen this directly in my work as well. Back in the early 2000s, while working at Efficiency Vermont, the Vermont Energy Education Project (VEEP) and Charlie Wanzer’s physics class evaluated lighting retrofit opportunities for their gymnasium. The students analyzed the savings potential, interviewed vendors and selected one, and proposed the project at their school board meeting. Once the project was completed, thanks to VEEP, the governor attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Those kids got to see first-hand how to work a process – technical, financial, and political – to make a difference.

More recently, we at AIQUEOUS hosted two high school interns from Austin High School who supported market research, lead generation and customer survey efforts. These practical experiences help to ground education in application.

Why Make the Investment? Because It’s Our Future

These types of projects are more involved and intensive than classroom presentations. But, the integration of education, engagement and effectiveness creates life-changing events and experiences for young people. AIQUEOUS will be bringing on additional high school interns this school year, and we are better prepared and organized with a year under our belt. Your organization can be an important partner with your local schools, and you can find these opportunities when you seek them out.

Let’s make this a great school year for all of our kids.

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