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Preparing the next generation of energy leaders

January 6, 2020 students with science model
JD Jorgensen, a teacher from Onslow County and NC Energy Literacy Fellow, led a team of students from Dixon High School (pictured above) to a first-place win in the wind energy competition at the North Carolina Renewable Energy Challenge, and then onto the 2019 National KidWind Competition in Houston, Texas.


The Duke Energy Foundation funds UNC-Chapel Hill programs that prepare future leaders for the energy workforce.

Transitioning to a low-carbon economy is not only changing the energy landscape in North Carolina and beyond. It also requires preparing the future energy workforce and inspiring the next generation of innovators.

The Duke Energy Foundation recently committed $845,000 to fund programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that promote science and technology education on campus and in communities across the state — preparing the next generation of energy leaders. The multi-year grant will be split among programs at the UNC Institute for the Environment, the UNC Morehead Planetarium & Science Center and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Energy Center.

A current of impact

The Duke Energy Foundation has supported the UNC Institute for the Environment’s energy programming for more than a decade. The new funding will continue to support the NC Energy Literacy Fellows Program, a year-long professional development program for 8th-12th grade STEM teachers. It also funds the Energy Literacy, Engagement and Action Program (Energy LEAP), a summer science enrichment program for 9th-12th grade students.

Both programs, launched in 2017, immerse participants in state-of-the-science instruction where they learn about the fundamentals of electricity, the nature of the electrical grid, the benefits and challenges associated with integrating renewables into the grid, and related career opportunities. Through hands-on, STEM-based activities and field trips to energy production and research facilities, both teachers and students increase their knowledge of energy science, especially in North Carolina’s evolving energy landscape.

Since launching, nearly 60 teachers and 60 high school students have participated in these programs, creating a ripple of impact in their communities — bringing a new appreciation for energy science into North Carolina classrooms.

“One goal of the NC Energy Literacy Fellows Program is to cultivate a community of middle and high school science, engineering and technology teachers who become statewide leaders when it comes to energy education,” said Program Director Dana Haine, the K-12 science education manager for the Institute’s Center for Public Engagement with Science.

Exploring science together

Morehead is programming the North Carolina Science Festival Duke Energy Science Nights at 150 schools across the state, spanning the entire month of April. The program’s goal is to give families the chance to explore science together and energize the state’s students to pursue science-related careers. Engaging and hands-on activities, science talks, lab tours, nature experiences, exhibits and performances cover a wide range of science, technology, engineering and math topics. These programs are important for introducing K-12 students to the possibility of joining the energy workforce.

Duke Energy Science Nights also highlight the educational, cultural and financial impact of science in our state, encouraging businesses to invest in North Carolina through events that widely appeal to diverse audiences and organizations.

The business of energy

UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Energy Center will use the grant to enhance programming, student financial aid, research and events that greatly enrich student experiences in the energy program, cultivating competent and capable leaders for the energy workforce.

“The Duke Energy Foundation grant helps build UNC Kenan-Flagler Energy Center’s capacity to educate students in the ‘Business of Energy,’ and to hold more events addressing the energy transition,” said UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Energy Center Director Stephen Arbogast. “These events will be conducted with a spirit of inquiry rather than advocacy and will be aimed at figuring out what will serve the dual objectives of addressing economic opportunity and climate risk.”

The Energy Center’s mission is unique in that it teaches the full energy value chain — oil and gas, power, petrochemicals and renewables. MBA students who earn a concentration in energy have a more complete understanding of the true economics of the energy industry and are well prepared to hit the ground running and advance rapidly within any energy business. This grant will allow the center to continue to build capacity and pursue strategic growth opportunities, such as hiring a full-time associate director and offering best-in-class forums for industry leaders shaping the future of the energy sector.

“The Duke Foundation’s support will enable us to undertake and publish more student research. It also will allow us to convene more gatherings of industry, government and environmental experts to discuss topics like the role of nuclear power in the transition and the obstacles facing deployment of electric vehicles,” said Arbogast. “We are deeply grateful to the Duke Foundation for their encouragement and support.”