Solar Energy Workshop Empowers Students

Partnership joins together UMKC, KCP&L, and Paseo Academy

When people from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Computing and Engineering, KCP&L, and Paseo Academy of Performing Arts get together, they don’t think small. Their goals are significant. Lofty, even.

Together, they hope to seriously impact the Kansas City community’s use of energy. So, by combining the expertise of UMKC’s SCE, the resources of KCP&L, and the creativity of Paseo students, they’ve set out to do just that.

At a recent alternative energy workshop developed by the UMKC E-Save through Automation and Education team, the groups laid groundwork for what will be a semester-long endeavor. The UMKC E-Save team consists of four SCE professors, who proposed and are now helping implement the alternative energy–focused project.

The workshop started with a tour of Project Living Proof, a century-old home that the Metropolitan Energy Center, with sponsorship from KCP&L, has made energy efficient. KCP&L uses Project Living Proof as a demonstration house for its SmartGrid customer products, rooftop solar and an electric vehicle charging station.

“In order to save this planet’s energy, we have to have some synergy,” Steve Green, Kansas City Public Schools superintendent, said, once the group convened at KCP&L.

As he looked over the mix of Paseo students and UMKC and KCP&L officials, he noted that while each group had strengths, their collective efforts would make them much stronger.

Later that day, UMKC Associate Professor Cory Beard kicked off the first step: Education. Beard talked with Paseo students about the value of solar energy. He shared the pros – that it’s renewable and sustainable, doesn’t create pollution, and that it saves money in the long term. He also touched on the cons. Solar panels require a costly initial investment. They can also create an aesthetic issue.

As he spoke, the mix of sophomores, juniors and seniors jotted notes. Beard was in his element. Soon, the students would be in theirs. The partnership relies heavily on the creativity of the students. With the knowledge they gain from the UMKC E-Save team, teams of students will compete in project and logo competitions. UMKC SCE students will work as mentors with the groups of Paseo students. At the end of the spring semester, their ideas will be presented at a school-wide event and awards ceremony. Later, local government officials and media will be able to view the students’ work at a community event.

At the moment, none of the adults know exactly what to expect of the students. They’re just hoping that the students will absorb the information, and that their ideas will be outside the box. Ultimately, it’s about getting this generation thinking about the future.

“This planet needs good stewards, and you’re the next generation of stewards,” Kevin Truman, dean of the SCE, said. “This is a great responsibility, one that you have to embrace wholeheartedly. If you embrace it, you’ll make a difference for generations to come.”

The students seemed eager to take on the responsibility. After receiving a refresher course on solar energy, energy conservation, and the role of renewable energy in the overall energy picture, the students began brainstorming.

Scattered at different tables, the students shouted ideas, sketched proposals, and, eventually, agreed on plans.

One group proposed a solar-paneled motorcycle. A particularly fashion-forward group proposed a runway in which solar panels are positioned to reflect on solar cells built into a model’s dress. The power created could generate enough power to light the built-in light bulbs on the model’s dress.

Though these won’t be the ideas they present at the end of the semester, the workshop got them on the right track. It got them thinking about energy, and thinking about long-term impacts.

“You are working for the future. This is the first step,” Vijay Kumar, UMKC SCE professor, said.
Workshop speakers and special guests included: Kevin Truman, dean of the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering; UMKC’s E-Save through Automation and Education Team, which includes Vijay Kumar, Cory Beard, Yugyung Lee, and Praveen Rao; Steve Green, superintendent  of Kansas City Public Schools; Dennis Walker, principal of Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts; KCP&L representatives Chuck Caisley, Rita Boyd and Gail Allen.

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