Energy Institute outreach programs bring fifth-graders to the Powerhouse, inspire community to think about clean energy solutions

Students examine the EcoCar.

The Energy Institute has many outreach programs that aim to instill a spirit of excitement and support for sustainable energy throughout Fort Collins.

Although the Institute has programs tailored to people of all ages, many outreach activities are aimed towards younger children, including elementary school students. Recently, the Energy Institute paired with Shepardson STEM Elementary to bring a group of fifth-graders to tour the Powerhouse.

An energy-filled field trip

Shepardson uses a curriculum focused on problem-solving and STEM-based subjects. The tour presented students with the opportunity to see real-life examples of sustainable energy technology and research.

“The fifth-grade science standards include units on renewable and nonrenewable energy and we were hoping to give them some real-world, hands-on experiences with some of the exhibits and activities going on at the Powerhouse.” said Becky Woodcox, the STEM coordinator for Shepardson Elementary.

Shepardson students enjoy a presentation at the Powerhouse.

Fifth-graders at Shepardson also created ideas about how to incorporate renewable energy into the Colorado State University Mountain Campus. The Powerhouse tour helped them think of solutions for this problem. Mac McGoldrick, who is the assistant director of the Energy Institute, was a member of the panel that evaluated students’ presentations of their ideas.

Woodcox believes that it’s important to introduce students to professionals in STEM-related fields. She noted that Shepardson is “fortunate to be able to take advantage of all the resources and experts right here in our own town.”

The power of a hands-on experience

Woodcox said that the fifth-graders enjoyed learning about the research and experiments taking place at the facility. Being able to see the inner workings of the Powerhouse, and develop their own ideas for renewable energy at the Mountain Campus, provided students with examples of real-world challenges and methods for approaching and solving them.

“These types of experiences get the students talking and thinking, help them become more observant about the world around them, and give them authentic experiences that are better than telling them or talking to them about a particular standard or unit. If they get to see authentic work and hear from ‘experts’ in the community, their learning becomes more realistic,” Woodcox explained. “Our hope is that they will become more curious, ask more questions, and realize they need to make choices now to set themselves on a path for the future.”

Education for all ages

Getting young students interested in clean energy technology is vital for the future of innovative energy research. But adults can also benefit from the educational outreach of the Energy Institute.

The Fort Collins Startup Week, which took place in March, highlighted the importance of Northern Colorado in clean energy entrepreneurship. The Powerhouse hosted a panel of energy entrepreneurs, including Energy Institute Executive Director Bryan Willson, who gave advice about starting and funding clean energy start-ups.

Other outreach programs by the Energy Institute include the Energy and Environment Seminar Series, which informs the community about the innovative research taking place at the Institute, and the Introduce a Girl to Engineering event at CSU.