With a grant from the national nonprofit EarthShare, Villanova University’s College of Engineering is launching Power Forward, a new STEM outreach program for Philadelphia high school students and other members of the community. Building on the College’s VESTED program (Villanova Engineering, Science and Technology Enrichment and Development) and leadership in sustainable engineering education, Power Forward will educate the city’s underserved communities about energy choice, equity and justice.
“Villanova’s College of Engineering and EarthShare have a shared commitment to promoting renewable energy use, energy equity, and engaging communities, especially under-resourced communities, in conversations about energy choices, impact, and policies,” says Power Forward Director Pritpal Singh, PhD, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate among the largest 10 cities in the country, so it is important to inform residents about renewable energy’s potential to positively impact their communities.”
In Quest of Energy Justice
Reflective of the high poverty rate, Philadelphia residents are more likely than the average U.S. citizen to face energy insecurity, such as forgoing food, medicine or other basic necessities to pay for energy bills. Low-income households also spend a significantly higher percentage of their income on utilities compared to high income households (7.2 percent compared to 2.3 percent).
Energy justice—based on the principle that all people should have a reliable, safe and affordable source of energy—can be improved through education, including presenting the impact of energy use choices, options to increase a home’s sustainability, and alternatives to traditional energy sources. In addition to offering significant financial benefits to consumers, there is the added benefit of improving the region’s environment.
The Power Forward program will develop a dynamic, community-based network with the collaboration Villanova University student mentors; high school principals and teachers in the School District of Philadelphia; and high school students in VESTED to reach as many participants as possible, with measurable outcomes.
In addition to educating high school students about the impact of their choices and actions on the environment, Power Forward will host 12 community workshops in Philadelphia to reach students’ parents and other community stakeholders. These workshops will provide a basic introduction to electricity and in-home systems, the environmental impacts of different energy sources, the energy consumption of household appliances, solar electric systems, job opportunities in the renewable energy field and more. Power Forward will also develop and share companion renewable energy curriculum materials for use in high schools and STEM outreach programs.
Villanova Engineering and Earthshare
“Villanova is uniquely qualified to launch Power Forward,” notes Dr. Singh. The College was one of the first in the country to establish a sustainable engineering program, which offers both master’s and doctoral degrees, as well as a graduate certificate and executive education. A Sustainability Studies minor is also available to undergraduates across the University.
In addition to being a leader in sustainable engineering education, Villanova is committed to engaging the broader public in issues surrounding renewable energy, energy equity, and energy impact through the Resilient Innovation through Sustainable Engineering (RISE) Forum. The nation’s first and only initiative to address issues of corporate sustainability and the sustainable enterprise through the discipline of engineering, RISE accelerates the identification and application of data-driven solutions that enable companies to increase the sustainability of their organizations.
The College of Engineering has a long history of supporting an array of STEM outreach programs designed to encourage underrepresented students, namely African Americans, Hispanics and women, to pursue careers in engineering and other technology fields not traditionally employing diverse populations. Since 2006, VESTED has served as the College’s signature STEM outreach program, introducing engineering and technology fields to students in under-resourced communities and schools and inspiring students to expand our nation’s pool of future engineers. Founded and directed by Stephen Jones, PhD, associate dean of Student and Strategic Programs, the program has inspired and prepared more than 350 underrepresented students from Philadelphia high schools matriculate to four-year engineering programs and related STEM disciplines.
Dr. Singh says, “We’re delighted to work with a national leader like EarthShare on this exciting new initiative.” EarthShare connects the most influential environmental organizations with employers, people, and communities to protect the planet. With a network of more than 500 nonprofit partners, it delivers strategic programs that “give people a voice in how they take action — from impacting air quality, clean water, and climate change to preserving the land and wildlife in their own backyard.”
Villanova faculty and graduate students are currently in the process of developing Power Forward’s curriculum and engaging stakeholders. They plan to begin program implementation this fall.