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This week’s guest blog is by Mark Justice, Director of Education and Community Relations at Cobb EMC. Mark provides leadership for member education, public relations, and public and media information. Cobb EMC, a not-for-profit electric cooperative, serves a large, diverse population in suburban Atlanta, Georgia. Their efforts to educate students and schools about energy are making a difference and are worth duplicating across the country. 

Each school year brings opportunities to help young people learn about the energy sector. Students, elementary to college, are interested in electricity and related energy topics. What could be better than to have them learn from their own energy provider? Speaking opportunities with young people allow us to become trusted energy advisors long before they enter adulthood.

I recently addressed three classes during an Elementary School Career Day. Over sessions lasting more than an hour, we discussed a range of topics, with Students, teachers, and parents filling the rooms. The audiences asked a lot of great questions, and listened intently the entire time. The classroom visit satisfied the curriculum requirements and allowed the students to better understand the industry.

School and community outreach programs should go beyond addressing electric safety. Our future members need to know how the cost of energy is embedded in the products and services they use. After all, the day is coming when the students will be paying their own power bills. They should know what factors impact the cost of electricity. Today’s power planning decisions will impact them far into early adulthood. We need to ensure our community, even the elementary aged child, understands the challenges we face to provide affordable, reliable, and safe energy.

A few years ago, a trend emerged in our school invitations, as we began receiving requests to speak in environmental science classes. Solar power was part of the discussion, so we brought in a small solar array. The discussion included how and why a mixture of energy resources impacts reliability and future costs. Over the years, solar and renewables have become increasingly affordable. For example, Cobb EMC has expanded the use of renewable solar energy by 360 percent since 2016.

School systems appreciate collaborative experiences. Our time with students and teachers has included some wonderful STEM engagement outside of the classroom. “Education has evolved to focus on student engagement in order to enhance learning,” said Dr. Connie Nelson, Hillgrove High School science teacher. “Programs offered by Cobb EMC provide informative and interesting experiences that encourage students to create connections across disciplines and to the real-world while finding personal meaning in the topics addressed.”

In addition to school presentations, there are many other ways to make an impact. Invite the community into your place of business. Highlight the amazing career opportunities in the utility industry. Establish internship programs that are life changing experiences. Develop internal Career Days that inspire employees to share their careers with interested students. Promote facility tours for college students, so they can see how their future could connect with the power industry. Eventually, you will see how opportunities to educate young people do not end when school doors are closed for summer. We are constantly educating our members, customers, and perhaps tomorrow’s colleagues.