Exploring careers: OHIO’s energy and the environment highlighted for High School Juniors

April 18, 2011

About 50 high school students and their teachers braved a downpour to tour the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment labs, as well as labs in the Center for Electrochemical Engineering Research as part of the Environmental Careers for Ohio’s Students Program on April 12th.

The program, which was funded by the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Environmental Education Fund, aims to provide training to Ohio high school students in the areas of energy, conservation and the impacts on our environment, as well as create opportunities for students to explore the careers in the environmental and energy industry by interacting with university researchers. Students visited other universities across Ohio as part of the program, with Ohio University being one stop.

Deborah Yerkes, executive direction of the Ohio Energy Project, and coordinator for the program, said that the program was invaluable to the students. One student told Yerkes that she would never have gotten the opportunity to visit OU without the program.

Students on the tour broke into small groups to tour individual labs and view research projects. Gary Conley, a researcher at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, led one of the tour groups and shared some of his experiences as a researcher measuring air quality.

“My vision of being a scientist has changed since coming to OU,” Conley said as he explained the various areas researchers at ISEE work on.

One of the major focuses during the ISEE portion of the tour was the damage coal power plants and coal mining has done to the environment in Ohio. Conley said that Southeast Ohio has acid rain caused by the pollution, which breaks down rocks and contaminates the water.

“Our environment is under very heavy attack of pollutants,” Conley said, “But we are making great strides to improve these things.”

After running through the rain to the waiting bus, the students headed to the Russ College of Engineering to begin the second half of their trip. Various members of the Center for Electrochemical Engineering Research showed the students different aspects of their work from hydrogen fuel cell car models to computer modeling.

Students overall came away with a lot of knowledge about the research that can be done. Yerkes emphasized the importance of energy and the environment and said that one student told her that energy was their generation’s “space race.”