This article is from the June 2, 2021, issue of Flip the Script, a weekly newsletter moving you from climate stress to clean energy action. Sign up here to get it in your inbox (and share the link with a friend).
President Biden recently set a new goal of reaching 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035. To get there, we’ll need to quadruple the current solar workforce and add 900,000 more trained workers. This ambitious goal is also an incredible opportunity and potential boost for our economy. How will we fill the gap—and do it quickly?
Training young people for jobs as solar PV installers—one of the fastest growing occupations—is one way.
In New York City, the school district has developed an innovative solar education program that gets students excited about clean energy early on through K-12 classroom lessons and then offers a pathway to get solar job training, certification, and first-hand experience while in high school. The NYC Solar Schools Education Program, a partnership between the NYC Department of Education and Solar One (a local nonprofit energy and sustainability education organization), offers hands-on, solar installation training to students at 13 high schools. The program comes full circle by organizing student internships with solar companies, giving students an opportunity to put their solar skills to work to power more NYC schools with solar.
A diagram of NYC’s Solar Education Program in action
Interview with a future clean energy professional
Thanks to the NYC Solar Schools Education Program, college student Stephanie Sosa got a jumpstart into her clean energy career while she was still in high school. She participated in Solar One’s virtual summer course as a high-school senior during the pandemic in June of 2020 and earned her NABCEP Solar PV Associate credential. With that training and experience as a foundation, she has decided to pursue a degree in electrical engineering at the NYC College of Technology to prepare for a career in clean energy.
Here is our interview with her, edited for length and clarity. Enjoy!
Generation180: What sparked your interest in solar and clean energy?
Stephanie Sosa: Ever since I was a little kid, my parents taught me to consider the earth a gift, because this is our home. I try my best to take care of it. In high school science class, we talked about ways we harm the earth, and the ways we can fulfill our human needs and wants. Solar and clean energy are the best way to fulfill our present needs without harming the earth and the ability of future generations to meet their needs. So, when I heard about Solar One’s virtual solar training for students, I applied right away.
Generation180: What were some of your highlights of the solar program?
Stephanie Sosa: I was very impressed by how knowledgeable the instructor was. All of the modules were rich in useful information (like PV system sizing), pacing was excellent, and he would go out of his way to research an answer to a question if he didn’t immediately know the answer. I enjoyed learning terms that were new to me, or that I was using wrong. For example, it’s actually solar cells that make up solar modules, which make up solar panels that comprise solar arrays!
Even with the course being in a fully-virtual environment, there were many ways to engage in discussion with other students, ask questions that lead into tangential conversation, and collaborate to enrich our learning.
Generation180: Did the high school solar program have an impact on your future career plans?
Stephanie Sosa: In high school, I discovered many things about myself. A passion for clean energy was one of them.
Specifically, during my junior year, we had someone from Solar One visit my class. He introduced me to solar and engaged my whole class through interactive, hands-on learning activities with solar cell modules that were really fun. From then on, I continued learning about the electrical trade, but I didn’t know how I would work within it. His lessons and role made me aware that solar was a growing field I could become a part of.
Immediately after completing the virtual course, we were given a book that we could study for the PV associate exam. I jumped at this opportunity to continue my learning and solar expertise. I studied, took the exam, and passed! So now I have my NABCEP PV Associate credential.
In high school, I discovered many things about myself. A passion for clean energy was one of them.
Generation180: Do you intend to join the clean energy field now that you have completed the solar training program?
Stephanie Sosa: I’m not currently in the solar industry, but it’s where I’d like to end up. I’m finishing my first year of college at the NYC College of Technology in Brooklyn, pursuing a degree in electrical engineering technology. By furthering my studies, I hope to use this knowledge to excel in the solar industry in the future.
Generation180: Do you have any advice for your generation and/or those interested in getting involved in clean energy?
Stephanie Sosa: Take advantage of every opportunity that you can to learn and immerse yourself in the field, whatever that might be. At first, I had never considered clean energy as a career pathway for myself. Luckily, I was introduced to the multitude of options to work in the world of clean energy and solar, thanks to the Solar One program.
Interested in learning more about the NYC DOE Office of Sustainability and Solar One’s work? Check out our case study on the program, and if you know a student in the NYC area, share this blog with them and encourage them to get involved!