Letting the Sun Shine on a Brighter Future
SCU's School of Engineering has long been a driver in both energy education and community outreach. Recently, the two converged when electrical engineering associate professor Shoba Krishnan and solar advocate Mike Strykowski teamed up to help veterans step into solar careers. According to a recent White House press release, "The solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy, creating a source of good paying American employment... Last year, the U.S. installed as much solar every three weeks as we did in all of 2008. In 2013 alone, the price of commercial and residential solar declined by more than 12 percent. This is driving more and more Americans to install solar panels at their homes and businesses, and is supporting tens of thousands of solar jobs across the country."
"I thought, with all the jobs that are available in the solar industry, and with all the skilled veterans who could use some help to get a foot in the door, maybe SCU could do something to help," said Krishnan. She reached out to Strykowski, CEO and co-founder of Solar Way Forward, a company committed to solar energy practitioner training and to bringing solar to the developing world. As mentor and consultant on a number of SCU energy projects, he is a frequent collaborator of Krishnan's. Together, the pair planned a module for the course, STEM Outreach in the Community, which meets the experiential learning for social justice (ELSJ) requirement for SCU undergraduates. Four mechanical engineering students signed up: juniors Hesham Naja and Peter Savoy, and seniors Jay Dubashi and Shane Hereford.
Krishnan explained: "Mike and I reached out to California's Employment Development Department and other veterans' groups to find participants. We also planned a field trip to Clean Solar, a local business that was very generous in offering us materials free of charge. Then we planned the labs for the course and determined the topics to be covered—the SCU students were responsible for researching those topics, creating curriculum, presenting the material to the veterans, and helping with the labs," she said. Strykowski added, "Students learned as many aspects of the residential solar market as we could fit in—site visits, solar modules, installation, safety, sales, and more. We also interviewed the veterans to look at their skillsets so we could incorporate materials that matched their prior military training to an application in the solar electrical field," he said. Naja noted, "In addition to the technical material we presented over the course of the quarter, Mike gave great assistance to the veterans, including help with their resumes to aid in their job search."
Reflecting on his experience taking/teaching the class, Dubashi said, "I came into this class feeling slightly jealous of the veterans. I thought the military would give them all the skills they needed to succeed in life. The reality is completely different. Veterans do have an exceptional and unique skillset. But they aren't taught how to communicate their skills to potential employers, or how to earn certifications to prove their skills. The veterans were incredibly eager to learn. Classes like this can blaze a new trail and have a positive impact on their lives."