Why invest in youth education?

My role in public power is a bit different. It is to teach. In an era of tightening budgets and increased scrutiny, some may wonder why it is important to invest in youth education and career outreach.

Over the last several years, the Nebraska Public Power District’s education programs have changed to promote more than just electrical safety. NPPD’s Pathways to a Technical Future program provides a variety of learning experiences for students applicable to science, technology, engineering, and math classes. The Pathways program is funded in part by the Association’s DEED program.

Energy is a STEM-driven industry. We teach programs that help young people achieve knowledge, practical skills, expertise, and literacies directly tied to academic requirements of STEM-based classes. This new focus has been well received by more than 10,000 students, teachers, and others each year.

NPPD Lab Photo

Educators are no longer just givers of knowledge, we must also become givers of opportunity. Pathways establishes a framework for teachers to provide opportunities for student development through innovation. With an internet connection, a vast world of information is at our fingertips and can be accessed and shared freely in seconds. The Pathways program is built upon a guiding spectrum that correlates open source learning with business fundamentals and educational strategies. Open source is an emerging education practice that allows students to create and manage their own learning experiences and produce interactive material available to anyone online.

Educators can facilitate a holistic approach to teaching that takes advantage of established open source movements, advances in innovation tools, and local business resources (such as public power utilities).  These opportunities help students develop skills needed to thrive in the 21st century, such as creativity and innovation; critical thinking and problem solving; communication and collaboration; information, media, and technology; life and career skills.

NPPD created an online learning repository for students and teachers, a mobile makerspace, and a way for other utilities to partner and utilize the resources. Our STEM programs have specific focus, purpose, and value.

Here are three of hundreds of positive examples of what the program has made possible:

  • A 7th grader used the engineering design process and a 3D printer to design a new pen holder for a special needs family member.
  • A technical math class learned to use right triangles to estimate the height of a power pole to confirm what they had figured out from the actual pole schematics.
  • Two students from two different schools worked together through a shared engineering notebook to install, configure, and eventually play retro video games on a Raspberry Pi.

NPPD invests in energy education and outreach because it gives us a chance to teach electrical safety, encourage students to explore technical careers, and help communities learn about the value of public power. We consider Pathways to be an educational circuit from classroom to career.

I may not work at a power plant or on power lines ensuring the safe and reliable delivery of electricity to homes and businesses. What I do helps foster the next generation to understand and appreciate what it takes to keep the lights on, and maybe one day find new ways to power our community in the future.