Local Students Explore STEM Careers
A home energy audit is the last thing on the summer bucket list for most high school students, but that’s just what Jessie Knight found herself doing last month. Knight shadowed Evergreen Home Performance Energy Advisor Liza Wheeler as part of a pilot program developed at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center. The two-credit college course encouraged high school juniors and seniors and first-year college students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
The eleven students who participated in the program conducted scientific research in Hutchinson Center labs, job-shadowed in local STEM-related jobs, and honed their math and language skills to communicate scientific ideas.
“The students really enjoyed their job shadow experiences,” said Molly Schauffler, the program director. “Many knew they were interested in science but had no idea what jobs were available.” Schauffler asked students to articulate areas of interest, then reached out to local businesses. Evergreen was a perfect fit for students interested in alternative energy and energy efficiency.
Energy Advisors like Wheeler specialize in building science, from the physics of air movement to the relationships between the home’s structure, heating system, and use. They assess homes as systems and engineer comprehensive improvements that slash energy costs while improving comfort and building durability.
Knight shadowed Wheeler for the series of diagnostic tests that make up a home energy audit and give Energy Advisors the information they need to engineer comprehensive energy efficiency projects. “The most interesting and surprising part of the job shadow with Liza was her favorite part: the blower door test,” said Knight. In a blower door test, a large calibrated fan blows air out of the house, depressurizing the space and measuring the airflow through leaks in the thermal envelope. “Once the fan was on, we went into the basement and you could feel the air being pulled in from every crack. I had no idea how much air was being transferred and the vast areas of improvement that small changes could make.”
Wheeler, who is certified as a Building Analyst by the Building Performance Institute, was delighted to share her job with Knight. “I’ve always had an interest in the practical application of science,” said Wheeler, “and I really enjoyed explaining the physics of home performance.”
The experience may have helped Wheeler recruit a future colleague, too. “An energy auditor combines engineering, people skills, and energy efficiency, so it is definitely a career that is possible on my current career path,” said Knight.
In addition to Evergreen Home Performance, students shadowed professionals at Waldo County General Hospital, Searsport Veterinary Hospital, Front Street Shipyard, Ingredients Solutions, Inc., Penobscot Marine Museum, and Lotic, Inc. Environmental Consulting.