Illini Union hosts workshop ‘to enhance energy literacy at all levels’

The University will be hosting a national workshop on clean energy education Thursday in the Illini Union ballrooms.

John Abelson, the chair of the committee and professor of engineering, said the initiative got started when President Barack Obama and the secretary of energy spoke of the importance of clean energy to the nation. He said no one nationally is taking charge of the energy education piece of the equation. This workshop will help discuss ways to create “an energy literate citizenry” for students in K-12, as well as for colleges, communities and business employees, he added.

“A group of us recognized that there was a potential on this campus … to enhance energy literacy at all levels,” Abelson said.

He said the funding of the workshop stems from the National Science Foundation through a grant to bring experts from across the nation to the event. There will be 100 registered participants from other institutions and groups of 15 will debate about what should be done on a national level on topics ranging from workforce development to international engagement.

“We really want to take into account the best thinking from these experts,” Abelson said. “We’re going to let the experts take the lead.”

Bridget Calendo, committee member, said Northwestern University is one of the partnering institutions for the event and is supporting the mission of the workshop. She said the need for collective decision-making on this type of issue is key with many people working together to find practical solutions.

“It’s an opportunity for collaboration more than anything,” Calendo said.

Calendo added that the idea behind this workshop is to have a growing visibility of the energy problem to strengthen its educational component.

“It’s designed to promote energy education,” Calendo said. “I think this is just the beginning.”

She said students can get involved in this effort by encouraging administration to put in more energy curriculum, which is what Northwestern did.

Students from all disciplinary fields can be taking energy courses because “energy infiltrates at any level,” including science, technology, ethics, policy and regulation, Calendo added.

Calendo said she is looking forward most to the component of the workshop that will focus on fostering international collaboration.

“We’re excited,” Calendo said. “We think it will be very successful.”

Aida Williams, committee member and graduate student, said she has been responsible for looking at past clean energy reports to see what has already been done.

“There hasn’t been that much done in teaching clean energy,” Williams said. “There has been an increasing push to develop STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).”

Williams said the goal of the workshop is to turn the clean energy focus into a national strategy that would stretch across all fifty states. She added that the workshop will define clean energy needs and state what the actual action steps will be to tackle the issue.

Abelson said this workshop will raise a lot of questions and ideas about the clean energy problem at hand. Through dialogue, it will also assess the energy problem on a national scale.

“I think there’s a greater sense that more needs to be done,” he said.