Sixteen-year-old Angela Traugott understands the nature of change.

“When we consider change in a general sense, it's not a matter of whether or not change should happen. Change is a given; it's inevitable,” said the senior at Livermore’s Vineyard School. “What we need to do is to get on the right side of change, to adapt to it and do our best to move it in a direction that benefits everyone. In a practical sense, that means investing more time and effort in clean energy industries, like the solar industry, to make life better for not only our generation, but for the generations to come.”

Angela was one of 30 local students who participated in the 2nd annual Tri-Valley Solar Energy Academy this summer at Las Positas College.

“While I knew of the importance of clean energy, solar power admittedly wasn't a field that I was all too familiar with, so I was excited to learn and experience something new,” she added. “I learned a lot about solar energy — how we harness it, how it benefits the environment, and how it benefits us. I also gained skills and knowledge I can apply to other areas of my life.”

The five-day academy, held July 15-19 this year, gives students exposure to four careers: marketing, project management, design-engineering, and finance. Students meet solar professionals, conduct independent research, and participate in hands-on activities. Along with gaining an understanding of solar technology, students develop professional skills, and make deeper connections about the applicability of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.

Angkitha Anguraj, 16, said, “I chose to participate in the academy because it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to explore disciplines like marketing, teamwork, and electrical engineering. Since I am interested in Aerospace Engineering, I hoped the academy would give me insight into electrical engineering.”

Yet Angkitha gained more than technical knowledge.

“The most important skill I gained is leadership,” said the Dublin High School student. “Working with team members I had just met and creating a product as one, furthered my communication skills and, subsequently, my leadership skills. I was able to learn what being a good manager meant and how to apply the skills to other situations.”

Not only is the academy free, but upon successful completion, student participants receive a $150 stipend. The 2019 Solar Energy Academy is provided by SunPower Corporation, managed by the Contra Costa Economic Partnership, and co-sponsored by Las Positas College and the Pleasanton Unified School District.

“SunPower is the number one commercial solar energy provider in the U.S.,” said Renée Solari, senior program manager for SunPower Horizons. “For years, we’ve been bringing reliable energy solutions and cost savings to schools, colleges and universities across the country. In 2009, we recognized that we could make a greater impact in how we change the way our world is powered by being bringing activity-based education to our education customers. We’ve had an active partnership with over 50 school districts to bring solar science to the classroom, bring students out of the class for in-the-field learning, and provide professional development for educators.”

The 2019 Tri-Valley Solar Energy Academy included 11th and 12th grade students from the Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin and Fremont school districts.

“Jobs in the solar industry include installation, project management, engineering, marketing, financing and everything in between, and are needed from rural areas to cities to deliver clean, affordable, renewable energy in all 50 states,” Solari said. “The summer Solar Energy Academy gives students an inside look into the many different job opportunities in solar, so that they can tailor their education for a career in the field, if they choose to do so.”

Mason Garofalo, a 17-year-old student at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, also attended this year’s academy.

“It’s critical to learn about the solar energy industry because it is an alternative to fossil fuels, it is sustainable, and it is increasing in popularity,” Mason said. “By participating in the solar academy, I was able to gain valuable information about the industry and work experience, along with communication skills. My favorite part of the academy was presenting to the panel of judges, as it mirrored a workplace sales pitch.”

The program concludes with participants sharing their knowledge with an audience of school officials, community members and family.

“When I walked into the academy, I had no idea that we were to create a presentation about what we learned throughout the week and present it to judges,” Angkitha said. “Though it was a bit of a challenge to squeeze the work into a week, it was well worth it. I learned how to time-manage properly and to present with vigor. I will definitely use some of what I took away from the academy in my school setting.”

Along the way, students enjoyed notable surprises and created positive memories.

“Something that surprised me about solar power is just how efficient it is,” Angkitha added. “I couldn't believe one hour of sunlight could power the entire earth for one whole year. It goes to show how applicable solar power is, and how it could help revolutionize the world. My favorite memory from the academy was when we got to solder to make a solar notebook. It was intriguing that such a simple project could help us charge our phones.”

For Angela, a favorite part of the academy was visiting SunPower's headquarters in San Jose.

“We were able to meet and chat with people who worked in a number of different jobs at SunPower,” she said. “It was fascinating getting to speak with people of varying backgrounds and careers, and I was very grateful that these people, especially the CEO, were able to take the time out of their day to visit us.”

SunPower plans to host the 3rd Tri-Valley Solar Energy Academy in the summer of 2020. The application process typically begins in March and runs through early June – or whenever all the spots are filled.

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