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Posted on March 5, 2013

Bakersfield: New Energy Academy Students Showcase Knowledge, Present Business Plans

By Tracy Correa

BAKERSFIELD — The students were initially nervous, but they gained confidence by the end of the night as they presented plans for would-be businesses that relied on energy sources ranging from nuclear to hydro energy.

About 100 juniors and sophomores enrolled in the PG&E-sponsored New Energy Academy at Independence High School in Bakersfield rolled out business plans Monday (March 4) before small audiences of business representatives. They used PowerPoint and model demonstrations, but mostly they relied on words.

Nancy Sandoval explains the financials for Marine Associated Tidal Energy (or M.A.T.E), a company her student team created, as classmates and judges look on. (Photos by Tracy Correa.)

For the student teams, it was a chance to show what they have learned.

“The tide goes in, the tide goes out,” explained Gabriel Glazer, one of 11 members of a student company called Marine Associated Tidal Energy. His words were part of a pitch seeking investors for the United Kingdom-based company’s SeaGen, a tidal turbine students said could generate 1.2 megawatts of carbon-free energy by harnessing the power of ocean currents.

They talked annual sales of $9.2 million, the wisdom of locating in the UK – “It is one big island surrounded by water,” said one of the students. And, they said, the UK is in need of more clean energy sources.

Students pressed for answers

But it wasn’t an easy sell. PG&E employees were among the tough judges who critiqued students and asked difficult questions. Randy Cowart, a control systems engineer for Processes Unlimited International in Bakersfield, pressed students in one of the classrooms about sales figures that had a few stumbling to answer.

Overall, the students were praised for their work and knowledge of energy sources.

New Energy Academy students at Bakersfield’s Independence High School pose with judges Sandy Mittelsteadt (left) and Randy Cowart after presenting a business plan for a hydro machine that relies on tidal energy.

“What you are learning is not just the theory, but the application,” Sandy Mittelsteadt told students. Mittelsteadt, a consultant working with PG&E and the California Department of Education on career academy schools such as the New Energy Academy at Independence High School, also served as a judge for the community presentations.

The New Energy Academy at Independence High is one of five PG&E-sponsored programs designed to teach high school students about the science and technology of new energy sources and green jobs. The other programs are at Berkeley High, Edison High in Fresno, and Venture Academy in Stockton and Foothill High in Sacramento. Earlier this year, Foothill High won an unplugged competition between the New Energy Academy schools.

Cowart said although he challenged students with difficult questions about their presentation, he was overall very impressed with the hydro team.

“They had a very good presentation, considering it was a first draft,” he said.

Preparing for energy careers

Juniors Lexi Tarlton and Emily Lopes, both on a team studying natural gas, said they felt confident about their presentation — a company that makes clamps to secure methane leaks on gas pipelines — and what they have learned as part of the academy.

“It’s neat to get to learn about energy sources,” Lexi said. “And you get to learn about companies like PG&E.”

A student team studying hydro energy posted a sign of thanks in their classroom at Bakersfield’s Independence High, one of PG&E’s New Energy Academy schools.

Emily said she is now considering a career in engineering, something she hadn’t considered until the academy program.

After the classroom presentations concluded, teacher Kim Woolf, who oversees the New Energy Academy at Independence High, told the judges to be honest with their feedback.

“If they are wrong about something, tell them,” Woolf said. “It is the best way for them to learn.”

Woolf said the community presentations are an important part of the program for her students.

“If they can’t stand and present something, then we really haven’t taught them what they need to be employable,” she said.

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