New green energy course inspires high school seniors from across the country

By Sydney Lester

This summer, 15 rising high school seniors from across the country learned about renewable energy as part of a new course offered through Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT), a one-week science and engineering enrichment program offered by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs. The course taught students the benefits and drawbacks of four different types of renewable energy – geothermal, wind, hydroelectric and solar power – and culminated in student presentations on wind farms that they modeled using advanced software.

The course was made possible by Enel Green Power North America (EGP-NA), which invested in the program as part of its efforts to fortify the future of the economy, industry, and company though engagement with younger generations. More than a dozen EGP-NA employees participated, teaching students about various renewable energy technologies and the basics of the industry’s business.

Zack Irons, wind project design and evaluation manager at EGP-NA, led the students through wind farm design projects, spending hours each day working with them and guiding them through the full design process using real-world wind farm data and software. After working closely with the students, he was inspired by their intellect and work ethic.

“These individuals were easily some of the sharpest and most intuitive minds I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” Irons said. “Their ability to grasp new concepts, retain enormous amounts of information, and apply that information using brand new tools was beyond impressive – it was inspiring.”

Evelyn Darden from Naperville, Illinois, was interested in the environment before she arrived on the MIT campus, and she developed an even stronger affinity for renewable energy during the E2@MIT course. Through observing course instructor Vera Steinmann’s lab work on photovoltaic cells, Darden affirmed her desire to pursue scientific research in the future.

“I wanted to go into medicine, so I was on the fence about going into research,” said Darden. “When I talked to Vera, it was really reassuring to know that I could go into research during my undergrad.” Since her involvement in E2@MIT and the green energy course, Darden hopes to learn more renewable energy and the implementation of new green technology. “I never knew there were so many different ways to use renewable energy. It’s something that I’d like to research one day.”

At Darden’s age, Steinmann held a similar idea about the importance of green energy in everyday life. “I grew up being very aware of the environment and renewable energy; my family has solar panels on their roof,” said Steinmann. “Sometimes I get the impression that people aren’t aware where power comes from, and people use it wastefully.”

Steinmann hoped that by teaching E2@MIT students about photovoltaic cells and other sources of green power, she could inspire them to bring that knowledge back to their communities and make green power more widely embraced.

“I think renewable energy is important because our other sources of energy are limited, and we can’t rely on coal, gas and oil forever,” said Steinmann. “Burning oil harms our environment, and if we want to do something good for the environment, we should focus on renewable.”