Taking a pro-active stance toward community education, MCA Chicago teamed up with educator Gerard Katz to offer Student Leadership Training Conferences on energy to Chicago-area high school students.

Planning America’s energy future takes more than putting up a few more windmills or solar panels. MCA of Chicago says that young people who want to take a role in the energy debate should consider working in the mechanical contracting industry - as designers and engineers, as well as technicians. (© iStockphoto.com/track5.)

“If America is going to have strong energy leaders in the future, they will need to be trained now. Education is our best strategy for meeting the complex energy challenges of the future.”

That is the belief ofStephen Lamb, executive director of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago. Taking a pro-active stance toward community education, MCA Chicago teamed up with educatorGerard Katzto offer Student Leadership Training Conferences on energy to area high school students. These regional workshops took place in November at Lyons Township High School, La Grange, Ill., and Perspectives/IIT Math & Science Academy.

MCA of Chicago underwrote the conferences. “We were happy to lend our support to these conferences,” Lamb says. “Like Gerard, we see great importance in educating today’s young people about energy.”

Created by the National Foundation for Energy Education (www.nfee.org), these educational events were held in preparation for The Great American Energy Debate, a March 2010 national event.

“Student representatives from 21 Chicago-area high schools attended the conferences,” says Katz, who is also president of NFEE. Dozens of similar conferences will take place nationwide before The Great American Energy Debate, which will kick off a 10-year effort to educate high school students about the energy issues facing our country.

On A Scale Of Zero To 10 …

Conference organizers wanted to determine how much students knew about energy issues, so participants were asked how “energy-educated,” on a scale of zero to a high score of 10, they considered themselves to be. The average student score was 6.1, while teachers rated themselves at 8.8.

Average student responses to other zero-to-10-rated questions included:

  • In favor of coal power: 3.4

  • In favor of nuclear power: 4.9

  • Rating themselves as energy conservers: 5.1

  • In favor of tax incentives for renewable energy and conservation: 7.1

  • In favor of solar and wind power: 8.2

When asked how much of the nation’s total energy is currently supplied by renewable sources, students estimated the amount at 38 percent. The correct answer is actually 8 percent. Participants optimistically predicted that renewable sources would supply 62 percent of America’s energy by 2030.

“People usually overestimate how much energy comes from renewables,” Katz explains. “The world isn’t as green as they think it is. These students learned that there is still a lot more work to be done.”

During the conferences, students attended English, math, social studies and science classes enriched with energy information. “What made the conference workshops unique was that students conducted most of the educational sessions,” he adds.

An Energy-Educated America

What does it mean to be truly “energy-educated”? Student participants were asked to complete the sentence, “An energy-educated America means…” and here are some of their responses:

“...using more renewable and energy-efficient products. It also means recycling and conserving energy.” -Julia Condotti, St. Cletus School.

“…people being able to make wise decisions to improve the lifestyle of Americans now and, in the future, making sure we are aware how we treat our environment.” -Matt Bernickus, Immaculate Conception.

“…every house can support at least 20 percent of its own energy.” -Josh Mollema, Southwest Oak Lawn.

Careers In Energy

Lamb believes that these energy education sessions will encourage students to consider careers in the construction industry, which deals extensively with energy issues.

“Young people often overlook careers in construction,” Lamb notes, “because they may think it is all menial or ‘dirty’ work. But in fact, the construction industry needs a variety of talents, including designers, engineers and more.”

He adds that the field of mechanical contracting deals with energy issues regularly. “Mechanical contracting is a vital part of the energy scene in construction,” he said. “The effectiveness of any green building depends on the efficiency of its heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. Young people interested in working with energy should consider mechanical contracting as a career.”

The Biggest Outcome

The biggest outcome of the conferences, according to Katz, was that many students were so inspired by what they learned, they are now planning on holding these workshops at their own schools.

“These students now realize that planning America’s energy future involves a lot more than just putting up a few more windmills or solar panels,” he says. “Many conference participants are continuing to learn about energy and getting more kids, relatives and members of the community involved.”

For more information, or to get involved with The Great American Energy Debate, visitwww.thegreatamericanenergydebate.org.

For more information on MCA of Chicago, visitwww.mca.org.