UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State students are working virtually on the Pennsylvania Solar Center’s Renew PA Works campaign in an effort to educate Pennsylvanians about the benefits of renewable energy, including job creation. The opportunity is made possible through City Semester, an internship program facilitated by the Penn State Center Pittsburgh, a Penn State Outreach service.
Sharon Pillar, founder and executive director of the Pennsylvania Solar Center — a nonprofit organization committed to helping Pennsylvania businesses, nonprofits and residents go solar — said the Renew PA Works campaign was created to educate about the need for new legislation to support renewable energy as an economic stimulus and jobs incubator in response to the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The current legislation calls for 8% renewable energy by 2021 with .5% solar,” Pillar said. “The Renew PA Works campaign encourages support to increase those goals to at least 18% by 2025 with 5.5% solar. The campaign highlights the argument that positive economic impact opportunities are being lost in Pennsylvania due to surrounding states attracting more private investment in renewable energy, and therefore creating more jobs.”
Penn State students working on the campaign are taking action in coordination with PA Solar Ambassadors, a group of more than 20 student volunteers from eight different universities across the commonwealth. Pillar said she called on student volunteers because of their enthusiasm for sustainability and availability during the pandemic.
“We could have never run the Renew PA Works campaign without the interns taking the helm to create an interactive and dynamic campaign to engage with legislators, the print media, social media and the circulation of a change.org petition,” Pillar said. “They also completed individual projects including creating geographic information system (GIS) overlays of legislative districts for our installation map; drafting webpages for equity and justice issues related to solar; designing LinkedIn and Instagram pages; researching policies in other states and much more. It has been inspiring to work with all of the students and witness their enthusiasm and concern about the need to create a better world that is environmentally healthy, equitable and inclusive.”
Claire Byrnes is a junior majoring in anthropology in the College of the Liberal Arts and geography in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State and said she decided to participate in the Renew PA Works campaign so she could make a difference in a virtual format during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have all been working remotely, and part of the campaign’s success is that it is bringing together students from all over the state for a common goal,” Byrnes said. “This experience has taught me advocacy skills that could be applied to a variety of topics that I care about. It has strengthened my passion for sustainability, which I hope to incorporate into my future career.”
Sierra Astle is a sophomore majoring in materials science and engineering in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State. She said she wanted to work on the campaign because it is important for college students to learn to speak up about issues that are important to them.
“I believe in the use of renewable energy and it’s encouraging to see that other people do, too. It gives me hope for a politically active generation in the future, one that not only gets out to vote, but also contacts legislators when they see an issue,” Astle said. “Plus, I’d love to see Pennsylvania have more solar energy! It’s a resource that has a lot of potential to cut carbon emissions and also bring economic benefits.”
Emily Kiver is double majoring in international politics and earth science and policy with a minor in French. She said this internship will help her to pursue a career in environmental policy.
“I hope to learn how to effectively run advocacy campaigns and understand how renewable energy and climate change policies are passed through state government. I am also doing some research on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for the PA Solar Center, which is a market-based greenhouse gas reduction policy involving most northeastern states,” Kiver said. “I hope that I will be able to use this knowledge in my senior thesis, which I am writing on state climate change-related policies.”
Dayna Glassberg is a senior majoring in earth science and policy in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State and said she hopes to learn more about clean energy.
“In the future, I hope to work for a solar energy company or a sustainability consulting company. The knowledge I gain about the importance of solar, the science of solar, as well as how to work in a professional setting will help be an incredible help to me in finding a full-time job post-graduation,” Glassberg said. “I am also an avid supporter of grassroots movements and playing a part in organizing one has been a great experience.”
Students presented their projects during a virtual open house organized by the Penn State Center Pittsburgh. Michele Halsell, assistant director for the Sustainability Institute at Penn State, was one of the attendees.
“During the presentations, it was clear that the City Semester interns gained more than real-world experience in urban sustainability,” Halsell said. “They also cultivated genuine connections with the communities they worked with in an entirely virtual setting, illustrating how technology can be leveraged to advance sustainable development even during a pandemic. Their work as interns will make a lasting impact in Pennsylvania communities.”
Tom Bartnik, director for the Penn State Center Pittsburgh, said that moving online due to the pandemic opened new doors for students.
“The challenges with COVID-19 actually proved that City Semester can be effective with remote, as well as conventional in-person internship placements. While a virtual internship is inherently different than face-to-face, both our students and community partners were thrilled this summer with what they achieved in this format,” Bartnik said. “As we begin recruiting for spring and summer 2021, we now have opportunities and options available that were not even considered possible last year.”
For more information about participating in the City Semester program, check the Penn State Center Pittsburgh.