Illinois High School teaches students about Ag and Energy Careers

For agriculture teacher Jesse Faber, educating students about energy alternatives is not only a practical lesson but is also a logical progression.

“We teach our students where their food comes from,” Faber says, “so it makes sense to teach them where their fuel comes from, too.”

And that’s just what Faber and his colleague, Parker Bane, have done at Pontiac High School. What started as small projects focused on biodiesel and wind energy has grown into a yearlong class devoted to the study of renewable energy. The class, which is open to juniors and seniors, covers a lot of territory, exploring the science behind a variety of alternative energy sources, such as ethanol, biodiesel, solar power, wind energy, fuel cells and hydropower.

Students learn the science behind the technology through a variety of hands-on projects, including producing biodiesel from vegetable oil, making ethanol in mash formation and then using tabletop models for the distillation and fermentation processes, and measuring windmill design and solar cell alignments.

Students have really taken to the class, tackling a variety of energy topics as their final class projects. For instance, the 23 students in the most recent class presented their research on everything from assessing blade design for windmills to creating a solar-powered remote control car. In addition to the hands-on research, students also learn practical lessons about the renewable energy field, including the job opportunities.

“With every topic we cover, we discuss the careers associated with that industry,” Faber says. That’s because students can often have a narrow view of what jobs are available, he says. For instance, students who are interested in working with animals think the logical career choice is to work as a vet.

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“We try to impress on them that there are all kinds of careers associated with an industry that maybe they haven’t thought about,” Faber adds. “The alternative energy field needs accountants, salespeople, human resource specialists and promotions staff in addition to the engineers, technicians and production specialists. We want them to be aware of all the opportunities in the field, so they can make informed decisions about their careers.”

Faber also wants them to come away with something else. “We hope we are helping our students prepare for jobs that haven’t been created yet.”

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