Posted on August 28, 2013

PG&E-Funded Environmental Programs Make a Difference in Teen’s Life

By David Kligman

Since he was in the first grade, Jesse Gibson was a troublemaker.

He ignored teachers, didn’t pay attention and generally was a disruption in his classes in Berkeley. Suspensions had become a regular occurrence by the time he was in middle school. And in high school he was kicked out of a youth conference.

At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Jesse Gibson and his fellow students inventoried every exterior light on campus to help the school as it transitions to LED lighting. (Photos by John Lindsey.)

Two years ago just before his senior year in high school, he finally began to turn his life around. And he credits a PG&E-funded program, begun at the same time, with being the catalyst. Green 360 is a community of students, professionals and teachers working together to build a green workforce. It’s among a wide array of PG&E energy efficiency programs for K-12 schools and community colleges.

“It was the first time I realized I wanted to be an environmentalist,” said Gibson, now 19 and attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “I felt profoundly that I had to take care of the environment.”

Motivation for a green career

Green 360 includes a website that explores environmental challenges. A group of “green gurus” blog about green work in careers that focus on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green transportation. The Career Catalyst, a free resource on the site, matches students’ personality traits and interests with green careers. High school teachers in the PG&E’s territory may use Green 360’s online course in their classrooms to help students gain the information and skills to create their green pathway.

Gibson was part of Green 360’s just-completed three-year pilot. As part of the Green 360 student development team, Gibson helped test content and studied water conservation. He said his work motivated his career aspiration.

“Sustainability just made sense to me,” he said. “It made sense to me to not destroy the things that provide what we need to live.”

In the new school year, seven high schools from Alameda, Yolo, Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties will take part in the program. Schools in San Francisco and in Fresno, Tulare and San Mateo counties also are planning to get involved.

Green 360’s directors credit PG&E with a unique partnership that prepares students for careers that save energy and help the environment. Of course, the program helps students develop a career path but it also showcases PG&E’s commitment to the environment.

“We’re not only guiding students into careers but the underlying message is how we can all live more energy efficiently,” said Green 360 co-director Laurie Maak. “That’s a plus for PG&E as well. The lesser energy that’s used the fewer power plants are needed to be built.”

College program nets real energy savings

When Gibson went to college, he started volunteering with PowerSave Campus, another PG&E-funded program and part of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance to Save Energy.  The program hires and trains 100 interns each year at 23 universities to engage campuses to save energy. The paid interns work closely with faculty and other student volunteers, like Jesse, on projects that include energy competitions and energy efficiency technology retrofits.

In PG&E’s territory, the program is available at seven campuses: Humboldt State, Chico State, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, UC Merced, UC Santa Cruz and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

One of the signature projects is called a Blackout Battle, a competition to educate and get students in dormitories to reduce their energy usage.

“The projects that these students do are real,” said Renee Lafrenz, program manager for PowerSave Campus. “It’s really powerful to when you see these students educating each other, seeing them band together and save energy and getting real numerical results.”

At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Gibson and fellow interns cataloged every type of exterior light on the campus so that it will be easy for the school to invest in LED lighting.

During the summer, he also worked in San Leandro as part of the Rising Sun Energy Center, another PG&E-sponsored nonprofit that trains and employs young people to help San Francisco Bay Area residents make their homes more energy efficient. Gibson went house to house, made sure pipes were insulated and even put clothes lines up in backyards.

PG&E-sponsored programs inspires students

Gibson, who is studying environmental management and protection at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, said the PG&E-sponsored programs turned his life around.

Without the PG&E-supported programs, "I wouldn't be the person I am now," says student Jesse Gibson.

“If it wasn’t for those things I wouldn’t be the person I am now,” he said.

Currently he’s trying to begin a nonprofit business — a food truck where students could buy fruits, vegetables and meat from local farmers. The food would include the food mileage (“the distance it goes from farm to fork”) and a short bio of the farmer who provided the food.

“We’re an agricultural school and we should know where our food comes from,” Gibson said. “People can get more connected to the food they’re eating. Our food doesn’t come from a grocery store. It comes from the ground.”

Most of all, he said, he’s not the same person he was before he started the PG&E-led programs.

“I’m conducting myself more like an adult, and I actually like that,” Gibson said. “It’s not just an appearance. That’s really how I am now. I value the environment more than I value my social life.”

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