Skip to main content

IE energy educators contribute to first-of-its-kind renewable energy education summit

July 11, 2021

The UNC Institute for the Environment’s role in training the next generation of clean energy professionals is garnering national attention once more. Lindsay Dubbs, co-director of the Outer Banks Field Site, who recently was recognized for her energy education work and Dana Brown Haine, the Center for Public Engagement with Science’s K-12 science education manager and director of the NC Energy Literacy Fellows (ELF) teacher professional development program, represented the clean energy education work taking place in North Carolina at the 2021 Renewable Energy Education Summit hosted by the Clean Energy Education and Workforce Alliance earlier this year.

Haine, who served on the summit’s planning committee and who facilitated two working group discussion sessions, said the day-long, virtual event was unique among most pandemic Zoom meetings due to its focus on creating opportunities for meaningful discussion and capturing input from a variety of stakeholders.

“The goal of the summit was to facilitate connections and collaboration between stakeholders from across the country who are working in the clean energy education arena to discuss what needs to happen to prepare students for the clean energy workforce, from training teachers to providing students with industry-based internship opportunities for instance,” said Haine.

More than 90 teachers, researchers and industry professionals gathered to discuss the state of renewable energy education and workforce development. One of the participating teachers was Denise Renfro, director of the Academy of Green Technology at Douglas Byrd High School Fayetteville who participated in the 2018 ELF program and whose energy instruction continues to adapt in order to prepare her students for North Carolina’s evolving energy landscape.

“It was empowering to hear so many voices come together to share knowledge, ideas, strategies and hope about the future of renewable energy education. This was an exceptional event from start to finish, and the importance of the work started here cannot be understated,” said Renfro.

Summit participants were invited to discuss focused topic areas such as: “Student Experiences and Learning about Clean Energy,” “Educator Knowledge and Learning” and “Clean Energy Talent Development and Career Pathways.” Participants met in working groups to discuss these threads in the context of effective strategies for broadening the reach and success of engagement around clean energy so that all learners can take part in shaping the clean energy transition. All groups discussed two additional questions related to equity and public engagement.

The day’s dialogues were visually captured by artist Viola Clark (image at the top.)

“A lot is happening in the renewable energy space in North Carolina. Our state has the second highest amount of installed solar capacity in the country,” said Haine. “By being a part of this summit and contributing to the dialogue, Lindsay and I were able to describe what is happening in our state and share our experiences as energy educators.”

“The summit was a bolstering experience. It was encouraging and inspiring to listen to the passion and successes of educators working with learners from across many spectrums,” Dubbs added. “We shared ideas for lessons and clean energy career pathways and identified several gaps in equity, teaching resources, and opportunities for learners and teachers. We also discussed next steps, including raising funds and expanding upon the groups involved in the discussion of clean energy education and organizing future summits and resource-sharing spaces.”

Haine said another benefit of the summit was the ability to cultivate relationships with other attendees and she has seen her professional network grow as a result of serving on the planning committee and attending the summit. While Haine and Dubbs are colleagues with a common interest in energy education, their participation in the summit led to their developing a webinar for teachers on marine energy in March 2021. Haine and Dubbs continue to stay connected and are exploring opportunities to connect their work by creating an opportunity that would support teachers in promoting the role of women in the energy sector.

“It is important for renewable energy educators to communicate what we are doing to educate and engage students and the public about renewable energy opportunities, questions, and challenges,” said Dubbs. “We can learn from each other and build upon and link our respective efforts with different groups of learners. The learners are currently or will become the workforce and citizens, across diverse sectors and communities, whose skills and expertise and buy-in are essential to achieving the goal of a clean energy powered future.”

“We’re seeing an evolution happen in our electricity and our transportation sectors in terms of moving toward cleaner energy, and we need to prepare students for the jobs being created by this evolution,” Haine said. “Learning about clean energy also showcases the solutions that are being implemented to address climate change and other environmental issues that arise from burning fossil fuels and ultimately inspires students as well.”

Dubbs leads environmental assessment and permitting aspects of the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program, where her research focuses on Gulf Stream ecology and environmental impact assessment associated with marine hydrokinetic energy. She developed and teaches undergraduate classes in coastal ecology and research methods, as well as coastal and offshore energy classes for both undergraduate and graduate students. Dubbs regularly involves students, interns, and young professionals in marine renewable energy and environmental impact assessment research, and she engages with others interested in renewable energy through community and professional presentations, service on advisory boards and leadership committees, and organization of and participation in public outreach events.

Haine is responsible for a number of IE’s energy education programs. In 2009, she co-founded IE’s first science enrichment program for high school students, the Climate Leadership and Energy Awareness Program (Climate LEAP). After the program ended in 2017, she founded IE’s Energy Literacy, Engagement and Action Program (Energy LEAP) for high school students, which is about to kick off its fifth year under the leadership of IE’s Grant Parkins. In 2017 she also founded the NC Energy Literacy Fellows Program, a teacher professional development program for 8th through 12th grade STEM teachers that showcases current energy science, technologies, and careers to enhance Fellows’ ability to deliver energy-related content, conduct STEM-based activities and promote STEM career opportunities to students.

Story by Ellie Heffernan and Dana Haine

Ellie Heffernan is a junior at UNC majoring in journalism and environmental studies. During her time at UNC, she has written for The Daily Tar Heel, volunteered with Musical Empowerment as a teacher and leadership team member, and been a part of the Service and Leadership Residential Learning Program.

Dana Brown Haine is the K-12 Science Education Manager for the Center for Public Engagement with Science. With a background in the biological sciences, Haine enjoys weaving her life science expertise into her passion for educating others on critical environmental science and health topics. Haine’s research translation and curriculum development skills enable her to deliver cutting-edge environmental science content and innovative activities to K-12 students, teachers and informal educators. Haine also contributes to the outreach efforts of the Community Engagement Core for the UNC Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. In her role as an environmental health educator, Haine shares scientific findings emerging from Center scientists with K-12 audiences and members of the general public.