Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mt. Diablo High School students enjoy an outstanding hands-on education on solar energy construction

Recently 12 students from Mt Diablo High School’s Academy of Construction & Mechanical Engineering (ACME) enjoyed an in-depth and up-close look at our country’s ever-increasing future in solar energy production, when they visited the Contra Costa County Office of Education’s (CCCOE) current solar construction project.

Led by a panel group, that included the solar project’s architect, contractor, solar engineer, electrical engineer, and inspector of record, as well as CCCOE’s General Services Director John Hild, the students began their day by receiving an overview presentation of the project. The presentation covered such issues as environmental studies, financing, hiring the best contractors for the job, timelines, and the cost savings benefit to the CCCOE. (Over the next 25 years, this new source of energy will save the CCCOE close to $11 million in electricity costs.)

The presenters stressed how their personal math, writing, and communication skills are so important in their line of work. Gopal Shanker, solar engineer, of Récolte Energy, told the kids not to neglect their non-engineering classes: “Over the years, I have found that it’s not always the best contractor that gets the job, it’s the ones who can successfully communicate what they can and will do if they get the proposed job.” The entire panel nodded and chuckled when contractor Andy Brophy, of Roebblen Contracting, Inc., said, “I’ll tell you, in my job, I do a whole lot more writing than drawing.”

Following the presentation, the students were able to sit in, and listen to the group’s bi-monthly construction meeting – two of the students were invited to sit at the meeting table. The gathering’s agenda included future material delivery and installation dates, staffing issues, and several deadlines. The students and ACME instructors listened closely to this rare learning opportunity.

Throughout the morning presentation and construction meeting, high school senior, Jonathan Blanco (pictured above left), intensely listened to the speakers and read through the handout materials. He said that ACME has been a great program to help him find his interest in construction and engineering. “After high school, I will be enrolling into Caterpillar’s ThinkBig Technician Education Program,” said Blanco. “Where will I go after graduating the program? I’m not really sure what I’ll do next, but I do see myself working in mechanical engineering.”

Junior student, Cynthia Sandoval, (pictured left) said that she has enjoyed her enrollment in the ACME program. “I’m not sure if engineering will be the profession I choose, but I am learning a lot in this program, and I can certainly decide what career I’ll go into after high school and college graduation.”

After the construction meeting, everyone went out onto the construction site for a hard-hat tour. Wearing their hard hats and safety goggles, the students saw, up close, the massive solar-panel structures that are being installed in the CCCOE’s parking lot. Though it was pouring rain, the students had plenty of thoughtful questions they were more interested in hearing the answers to, than running back to the dry indoors.

After the site tour, the presenters, students, and teachers sat down for lunch and some more individual questions and answers. ACME’s Director Steve Seaman said, “This was certainly an outstanding opportunity for our students. We all learned quite a bit today, and really appreciate the CCCOE and the construction team providing a great learning experience!” Seaman reported that currently ACME has an enrollment of 156 students, but they are gearing up for 400 students in the very near future.