By Katherine Chen
These two questions guide Heltzel’s teaching at Chabot College, where he serves as an adjunct English professor and partner in SEI’s Energize Colleges program. Heltzel also teaches English at College of San Mateo and Berkeley City College, and co-leads the climate education nonprofit Teach Earth Action (TEA)
Despite taking environmental science classes in school, Heltzel recalls not being taught about “the big picture of climate change” until he took an astronomy and poetry class - coincidentally, at Chabot College. After reading The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells and the 2018 IPCC report, Heltzel remembers the fear and panic of recognizing “the totality of climate change” for the first time. In response, he made two decisions: first, to teach about climate change in his classes; and second, to switch to a vegan diet.
Today, not only do Heltzel’s students learn about Shakespeare; they also learn about issues that impact them, their communities, and the planet. In order to substantially address the climate crisis, “We need every teacher in some capacity focusing on this issue.”
What can that look like? Heltzel begins by asking, “What’s the work that needs to be done?”
By Alexis Fineman
For the past several months, seniors at LaFayette High School in LaFayette, Alabama have been learning about energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy sources as part of the 2022 PowerUp! Energy Challenge. In partnership with SOLV Energy and Heart of America, SEI facilitated a series of weekly educational challenges to get students “powered up” about energy in their lives and communities while also introducing students to the solar job market.
The Challenge was launched in February with a kick-off assembly featuring alumni guest speakers Dr. Travis Smith with Unite HBCU, who builds pathways for high school students into HBCUs and from HBCUS into the workforce, and Devon Mackey, a solar project manager with SOLV Energy. It culminated in a multi-week Campaign Challenge. Through the Campaign Challenge, students created educational posters and graphic designs to promote conservation and efficiency measures in their communities. Campaign judges included the Chambers County School Board president Jeffrey Finch, LaFayette mayor Kenneth Vines, Chamber of Commerce director Carrie Royster, and Taylor Teel, the director of Camp Marranook.
First place winner ShaKerya Gunn receives a prize (left) for her Energy Challenge submission (right)
Over 30 students in LaFayette’s senior class participated, and throughout the Challenge, these students experienced the support and encouragement of their communities. Students dove deep into topics of energy, resiliency, and sustainability; explored solar careers; and were asked to consider how they themselves could be agents of change on a warming planet. Of the 30 participants, SEI awarded 12 finalists SEI’s Energy Specialist Certificate. The first, second, and third place winners received scholarship awards of $1500, $1000, and $500 respectively, as well as an array of Goal Zero solar products.
The SEI Team
Environmental education and workforce development experts share stories from the field