Camps have changed a lot since my childhood days of learning to swim at the Y. Somewhere between the increased competition for college admission and the universities’ quest to monetize all that empty space during the summer, parents have started spending a lot of money for “enrichment.” Admittedly, I have fallen prey. Recently, I sat down with my 10th grader to finalize his summer plans. I was amazed at his options. There are camps pre-college programs for all of his hobbies and every interest he didn’t know he had! One in particular caught my eye – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has a Smart Grid Camp Pre-College Program! In this week-long program, students conduct a market experiment to learn about electricity pricing. Using a simulation tool, they will explore how the grid responds to loss of equipment, extreme power demands and other problems that might lead to blackouts. Students learn how the electric grid is being adapted to incorporate renewable sources of energy such as solar arrays and wind turbine farms. Working with RPI faculty and graduate students, high schoolers will learn about computer networks, cyber security and even tour power grid manufacturing or control facilities. Wow! This description is certainly deserving of the pre-college label. Unfortunately I will not be able to provide you with insider details. My interest in the smart grid has not rubbed off on my son. He selected a Gaming Academy and was not persuaded when I pointed out you need energy to power those games he will be designing.

Rensselaer also offers a Smart Lighting – Smart Power – Smart Systems Pre-College Program. It introduces high school students to lighting, power and sensor technologies and how they can be integrated into real world, sustainable and well-engineered Smart Systems. Students will be engaged in hands-on activities using the fundamentals of electronics and photonics to engineer solutions that address today’s social and environmental challenges. They will interact with engineers and scientists and participate in guided tours of high-tech manufacturing and/or research facilities. (Applications accepted until full.)

There are a variety of energy camps and pre-college programs across the country; some start as early as 3rd grade. This is good news. Optimizing the grid will require energy literacy. Like other transformations, children often lead the way. While it will not help with immediate needs, utilities should find developing the pipeline helpful to the looming talent shortage they face. Here’s a sampling of what is being offered:

  • Rethink Energy Florida hosts an Energy Ball to raise funds so that no kid is turned away from its Energy Camp for 3rd-6th graders. Campers make their own solar ovens.
  • The Touchstone Energy Camp in Indiana is just for 6th graders. A mixture of traditional camp, kids learn about electric distribution and go from rides in bucket trucks to horseback riding, swimming and archery.
  • The Green Energy Camp at the University of Washington-Seattle provides 6th-8th graders with a STEM approach to our energy future. Campers will build their own electricity-generating wind turbines and use math to measure the energy output of their designs and make them more efficient. (Waitlist available.)
  • The Shell Energy Venture Camp at LSU provides 9th-11th graders and teachers with the opportunity to learn about energy careers while having fun. They will perform hands-on experiments to explore the entire process of energy development; from how oil and natural gas are formed to the ways various types of energy are used. Campers will build a generator, a motor, a car, a windmill, a solar house and a robot! (Still accepting applications.)
  • University of Southern California/Chevron Frontiers of Energy Resources Summer Camp offers high school juniors and a few math and science teachers a preparatory, interactive training program focusing on various energy resources including fossil fuels, solar, biofuels, nuclear energy and information technologies for energy efficient operations
  • Also at USC, ExxonMobil sponsors the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp providing activities, experiments, projects and field experiences for students entering 6th-8th grade in the fall of 2014. The camp promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and supports historically underserved and underrepresented students with limited opportunities. Selected students attend this two week residential camp free of charge! (Deadline May 9, 2014.) This camp is offered at other schools throughout the US and includes mentoring from Dr. Bernard A. Harris, Jr., the first African-American to walk in space and camp founder.
  • Purdue University is home to the Duke Energy Academy. Purdue University has launched an Energy Academy to address the looming national crisis in the number and quality of students entering the STEM disciplines. Concerned that a decline in STEM-based education will impact our nation’s ability to lead the world in the energy sector, the Duke Energy Academy provides a week-long course in STEM-related energy topic areas of power generation, transportation, power transmission, energy efficiency and new research frontiers. After camp, students and teachers will be encouraged to launch energy clubs in their schools.
  • The Renewable Energy Camp at University of Wisconsin-Platteville is a week-long program that immerses 9th-12th graders in programming that provides insight into the dynamic field of renewable energy. Activities focus on practical applications of renewable energy in the field. Students will develop core knowledge of systems at the intersection of physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, electrical and mechanical engineering and agriculture. (Registration is currently open.)
  • Skyline College in San Bruno, California provides high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to earn two units of college credit for free at its Green Energy Camp. Students will learn valuable marketing and business skills as well as an overview of solar and energy efficiency products and services. The camp is part of the Energy Systems Technology Management program.

I am impressed. I can’t recall specifics about my high school summers but I am pretty sure I did not do anything nearly as academic. This list is not exhaustive. Next year I plan to do a similar post earlier in the year, ahead of application deadlines. However, thanks to DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, no one has to be left out this year. Parents and teachers can create their own energy camp experience utilizing this lesson plan. There are so many energy related camps and pre-college opportunities, I am confident we will have a powerful future.