N.C. A&T Celebrates N.C. Clean Energy Program Participants with State Agency, Industry Leaders

By Jamie Crockett / 08/02/2022 Research and Economic Development, College of Engineering

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Aug. 2, 2022) – State agency leaders and industry partners are celebrating 40 high school and 20 college students’ completion of the 2022 N.C. Clean Energy pre-apprenticeship and internship program at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

The program – the first of its kind in the nation – is committed to equipping the next generation of potential clean energy talent with professional training and skills development in various topics, including solar panel installation, renewable energy, HVAC and architectural design.

N.C. Clean Energy is supported by multiple grants totaling $185,000 from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the university’s Center for Energy Research and Technology (CERT). It is led by university faculty members Balakrishna “Balu” Gokaraju, Ph.D., CERT Director Greg Monty, Ph.D., and Raymond Tesiero, Ph.D. The program is also included in an ongoing broader effort to implement energy-efficient community initiatives.

The 2020 pilot program selected nine students; in 2021, the number increased to 31. This summer, that number doubled and the program expanded to include students from 10 counties, mainly from the Greensboro, Halifax, Raleigh and Charlotte areas. Twenty-five industry partners served as host sites for paid pre-apprenticeships and internships this summer.

NCDEQ Assistant Secretary Sushma Masemore set the stage for the event’s attendees, offering a timeline of technological advancement and workforce needs over the last two decades and encouraging program participants to acknowledge their current and potential contributions to the field.

“Students, you have a future in this clean energy transition, which will have an impact on you and your family,” Masemore said. “You are here because of a vision that the professors here have who are connecting the real world with the academic world.”

“It’s an incredible honor to be here among these extremely talented students who are pursuing skills in a burgeoning field that is going to grow exponentially here in North Carolina,” said Jennifer Mundt, N.C. Department of Commerce assistant secretary of Clean Energy Economic Development. “They are, and will continue to be, a part of that growth as we continue to transition to a clean energy economy.”

Mundt referred to a 2020 E2 report, highlighting five consecutive years of growth in North Carolina’s clean energy sector, with approximately 113,000 jobs prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many other fields, the pandemic disrupted that growth, losing nearly 19% of state’s clean energy jobs and leaving 21,200 workers unemployed, according to the nonpartisan advocacy group.

Gokaraju, an associate professor in A&T’s College of Engineering, contributed expertise in apprenticeship management from prior experiences to establish the N.C. Clean Energy program. He reiterated the demand and highlighted an area that needs prioritizing.

“There are 100,000 job opportunities in clean energy, especially in renewable energy and energy efficiency, in North Carolina,” he said. “In addition, 3,000 more jobs are increasing every year and our state occupies the No. 1 rank an increase in rural jobs in renewable energy for the past two years. We need these kinds of on-the-job training or project-based learning skills training programs for rural students.”

Thirty high school participants from Halifax County, a rural area in the northeastern part of the state, received 96 hours of instruction, which included Six Sigma certification, Occupational Safety and Health Administration Safety-30, Working Smart soft skills certification and solar certification. The students completed an additional 80 hours of on-the-job training and were led by Rhonda High as part of the Halifax Lighthouse Solar Camp.

Halifax Community College President David Forester, Ph.D., commended High for accepting and rising to the challenge of building upon the previous year’s success by serving four public school districts this summer, even including a Dress to Success component with a local partner to provide students with professional clothing.

Although program leaders hope exposure to this field will later lead to career pursuit, they have found ways to connect students’ primary interests to what they’re learning.

State Energy Office Program Manager Star Hodge shared how one North Carolina State University student realized how she could incorporate her interests in math and teaching in her internship program by helping her host site calculate utility savings.

N.C. Executive Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) Executive Director Caroline Sullivan lauded the Clean Energy program and Lighthouse Solar Camp and brought greetings from Gov. Roy Cooper.

“Gov. Cooper was able to visit the Halifax program last summer and let me tell you it made a huge impact on him, being able to see how you bright, hard-working young people show off your skills and how the program opened up your eyes to sustainability and opportunity,” said Sullivan. “He likes this program so much, he thinks it needs to be scaled.

“Students see solutions and actions, you can do hard things and you’re not afraid of change.”

N.C. DPI Assistant Director Lynn Barbour and ApprenticeshipNC Kathryn Castelloes both shared inspiring words for program participants and industry partners.

“Remember, they didn’t allow you into the program: you earned and deserved a spot in this program and sometimes words we use are reflective of how you think, but you earned it,” Barbour said. “Public-private partnerships lay out clear opportunities for our young people.”

“CNBC recently reported North Carolina as the best state for business, and this is why,” said Castelloes. “This hands-on experience coupled with classroom instruction is just the beginning.”

Throughout the celebration, several students from both the pre-apprenticeship and internship programs shared their experiences.

Sydney Parker, a senior mechanical engineering student at North Carolina A&T, completed her internship this summer at the N.C. Electric Cooperative in the innovation and business development division.

“Our goal as a company aligns with the larger energy conservation community to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050,” said Parker. “I had been introduced to sustainable resources prior to this internship, but being a part of this experience encouraged me to pursue related areas as I consider graduate school and careers in the renewable energy industry.”

While at the internship, Parker learned to develop her writing skills to make what she wanted to communicate to the team more concise and to the point. Additionally, she learned how the company prioritizes identifying challenges and determining more sustainable solutions.

Niyah Webb, a student at Guilford Technical Community College who plans to transfer to A&T in 2024, is a former program participant.

“I got connected to the NC STEM alliance director at GTCC, Mr. Al Jones, who connected me with Dr. Balu,” she said. “He told me about this opportunity to learn about energy conservation and most of what was discussed today at the event.”

Webb has a fascination with robotics, specifically animatronics. While she did not see a direct connection to her preferred career path in engineering, she still thought learning about sustainable efforts was valuable and decided to participate in the program.

During the summer of 2021, Webb interned at CPL Greensboro, an architecture, engineering and planning firm. Among the many aspects explored over the course of 96 internship hours, she learned about air movement, how it can be manipulated and how it affects the energy use of the building.

“I began with learning the fundamental concepts, which I appreciate so much and made things much easier during my time at CPL Greensboro,” said Webb. “I’ve found too often that the fundamentals are undervalued.”

Webb echoed the sentiments expressed during the celebration event and offered advice to current and future participants.

“It’s a great program and you earned your spot here,” she said. “In order to know, you first have to fail. Allow yourself to take the leap, and don’t let imposter syndrome get in the way. Trust yourself, understand and tap into your potential.”

Gokaraju expressed gratitude for the widespread support of the program received.

"Without our advisors, industry partners and agency assistance, we could not have accomplished this," he said. 

Technical Team

  • Balakrishna "Balu" Gokaraju, Ph.D. (N.C. A&T & CERT)
  • Greg Monty, Ph.D. (N.C. A&T, CERT director)
  • Dr. Ray Tesiero (N.C.A&T, CERT)
  • Steve Kalland (Clean Energy Technology Center, N.C. State)
  • Allison Carr (N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, N.C. State)
  • Rhonda High (Halifax Community College)

Advisory Team

  • Star Hodge (NCDEQ)
  • Caroline Sullivan (NCBCE, Office of Governor)
  • Wanda Ramos-McPherson (ApprenticeshipNC)
  • Andrea DeSantis, Ph.D. (policy advisor, Office of Governor)

Industry Partners and Special Focus

Greensboro: (Energy Efficiency & Architectural)

  • CommissioningWorx
  • CPL Architects
  • SuperiorMechanical
  • PiedmontServicesGroup
  • N.C. A&T Facilities
  • Hoffman & HoffMan Group
  • Energy Reduction Specialists Group
  • HyFabco

Wake: (Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency)

  • NC Electric Cooperatives
  • Department of Administration
  • Sonder Energy
  • Carolina Commercial Systems

Halifax: (Renewable Energy)

  • STRATE Energy
  • Roanoke Electric
  • West Rock
  • Roseburg Lumber

Charlotte (Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency)

  • SIEMENS Energy
  • HydePark Partners
  • Livingston & Haven
  • MSS Solutions
  • Rebuild Charlotte Together
  • Alama HVAC.inc
  • Advanced Energy Group

Media Contact Information: jicrockett@ncat.edu

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