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By Dana Haine

Emily Liu and Megan Doherty

The Duke Energy Carolinas/NC GreenPower Schools Going Solar grant program recently awarded a 5 kW solar photovoltaic system to East Chapel Hill High School (ECHHS). The grant application submitted by ECHHS was driven by student interest and was a product of hard work on behalf of students in the school’s Solar Panel Project (SPP). Two of the student leaders of this project are affiliated with IE’s Climate Leadership and Energy Awareness Program (Climate LEAP). Since 2009, this student science enrichment, made possible with a grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, has engaged more than 250 9th-12th grade students in learning about the interconnected topics of climate and energy as well as the current and emerging solutions designed to move us toward a low carbon future.

“Climate LEAP students are encouraged to cultivate their leadership and science communication skills through completion of student-initiated action projects” says Climate LEAP Program Director Dana Haine.

“By participating in Climate LEAP, I gained valuable insights about how significant the threat of climate change is to the environment and to people and this made me realize the importance of sharing my experiences and knowledge, and more importantly, inspired me to take action,” says ECHHS student Emily Liu who was a participant in the 2015-2016 Climate LEAP.

The initiative to bring solar power to ECHHS can be traced back to an idea Liu had after meeting Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education member, Annetta Streater, during a Climate LEAP event devoted to the topic of civic engagement and sustainability. Streater put Liu in contact with the school district’s sustainability coordinator, Dan Schnitzer. Liu also connected with another ECHHS student and current Climate LEAP student, Megan Doherty, and from there the school’s Solar Panel Project began.

“Climate LEAP gave me the knowledge, resources and confidence to become an environmental leader. Being the president of the SPP has given me the rewarding taste of working for a greater cause which I am passionate about,” says Doherty.

“I had always wanted to do something impactful involving sustainability at my school, however, I didn’t have the connections, ideas or confidence to do so until I participated in Climate LEAP. Meeting alumni of Climate LEAP, who became leaders in community sustainability initiatives, combined with learning about the environment gave me a rush of ideas and enthusiasm to start my own project.

“When Megan and Emily approached me with the idea of solar at East, they were end-goal focused: solar panels,” says Schnitzer.

He wanted the students to understand that part of the philosophy around sustainability education is understanding systems. To do this, he asked the students to assess the energy use at ECHHS, try to understand patterns of use and conduct an energy audit.

“Emily and Megan mobilized students, communicated with multiple stakeholders and kept the process moving forward. With the exception of a few technical pieces, they wrote the Duke Energy/NC Greenpower grant, and this award is a direct result of their leadership and the many other students who have become involved and invested throughout this project.”

Liu and Doherty report that through this process they have learned not only how to coordinate meetings and be effective leaders, but also to write grants, and they cite that without the support of Schnitzer, Noel Myers from UNC’s Environmental Finance Center and teachers like Steve Snyder, an AP Environmental Science teacher, this award would not have been possible.

“My involvement in Climate LEAP provided me with the necessary skill set, network and support to carry out this project. My long time interest in the environment and sustainability plus my training and experiences in Climate LEAP helped inspire the idea and ultimately make it a reality,” says Liu.

According to Doherty, the Duke Energy Grant was the first step towards the SPP’s goal of providing a unique educational experience centered around solar and green energy at ECHHS and becoming a leader in the movement towards green energy and a sustainable future.

Read more in the Daily Tar Heel: East Chapel Hill High students receive grant to install solar panels


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