Students explore energy issues

Every Tuesday, 14 local high school students gather at the John McConnell Math and Science Center of Western Colorado to discuss energy policy.

They bring articles about alternative energy and drilling rigs and what happens when a company burns methane. They question the facts and question each other. At the end of the two-hour session, they receive an assignment that asks them to learn more about various energy sources.

Students from five Grand Valley high schools have enrolled in this class, known as the Youth Policy Summit, to expand their scientific knowledge beyond the normal classroom discussion and earn six college credits from Colorado Mesa University. About one-third are girls, all have taken advanced science courses and their political views span the spectrum.

The summit is organized by the Math and Science Center, and the center’s director, Teresa Coons, teaches each weekly class. Coons said she created the class to bridge the gap between kid-friendly science experiments like the ones at the center and the intensive work involved in college science classes. Her goal is to teach high school students how science is relevant to their lives in a science-related job or just as citizens.

The program is funded by a $125,000 Chevron grant. Chevron spokeswoman Cary Baird said the company is considering a grant request to keep the program going next year.

“We have a strong need to engage our young people in math and science careers moving forward. There’s a deficit” in youth interest in math and science-related careers in the U.S., Baird said. “That needs to be addressed.”

The students who enrolled in the summit want to be everything from astrophysicists to petroleum engineers. Lindsey Whitesides, 16, from Fruita Monument High School, took the class to learn enough about energy solutions to have an informed opinion about them. R-5 High School student Connie Reust, 16, was attracted by the free college credit. Eighteen-year-old Fruita Monument student Austin Dougless wanted to discuss energy issues with a diverse group.

“I would want at least one of my ideas I hold dear to be completely overturned because that would mean I’m learning something,” he said.

Students will use their new knowledge and opinions to write a policy statement by the end of the year. Coons said she hasn’t decided whether the statement will address an existing policy or advise policy-makers to create a new one.


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