‘Summer of Solar’ Brightens Futures for Children

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Students participating in the Summer of Solar might not have discovered the light bulb but they learned how to make it glow.

Through the program, students practiced skills in following directions and problem-solving to build a solar-powered light and install it in a small wooden house.

“I think our favorite part is when the LED light lights up, it is like Christmas, right? Because after doing like 12 different steps, they finally are getting to the point where they are seeing the labor of their work pay off,” says Shawntae Burton, the Youngstown State University outreach coordinator of the Assured Digital Microelectronics Education Training Ecosystem (ADMETE) program.

The solar panel project is designed to inspire students to take an interest in microelectronics. A simple, small wooden house, wiring, an LED light and alligator clips were used to show students how easy it is to create a small circuit. Six engineering students from YSU in the chemical or electrical engineering programs helped troubleshoot during the project, answering questions and helping the students who got stuck here or there.

YSU is one of five institutions in northeastern Ohio given a chance to present the free program to students this summer with the assistance of a grant through the U.S. Department of Defense, which Burton says has recognized the need for more students in the United States to become interested in the subject.

“We need more qualified candidates to enter into electrical engineering so that they can study microelectronics, which is small technology that we need to make everything around us work, like cell phones,” Burton says. Students studying microelectronics could help with chip shortages for example. “But more importantly, the Air Force needs us to do that kind of work.”

Through the program students get excited about science, technology, engineering and math and about their opportunities. She points out that STEM-related classes are not just for boys, not just for straight “A” students in math and not just for students, but their parents, as well.

By reaching out to the students at a young age, Burton says there is more of a chance of piquing their interest and having those students go on to study engineering and microelectronics at YSU.

“We need to make sure they feel qualified to do [STEM] at an early age,” Burton says. Most girls tell themselves they cannot do it, especially the math part, by second grade, she adds. “That’s way too soon to disqualify yourself.”

Instead, Burton says it’s important to teach them that they are problem solvers and their local library is a great place to learn and engage in STEM-related activities. The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County partnered with YSU ADMETE to host the event several times this summer.

“This is a fun program just to get the kids talking about science,” says Marnie Alvarez, family engagement manager of the library. The program introduced about 200 students this summer to the new 6,000-square-foot library addition where the event was held.

Hosting programs like the YSU ADMETE and summer library reading events are some of the ways the library works to prevent the “summer slide” where students forget some of what they learned, Alvarez says.

Some students who came to the Summer of Solar program July 18 were there with Monifa Anderson, supervisor with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Youth Summer Enrichment Program, which operates through the Word in Action Ministries Workforce Development Program.

While their program is about teaching students to be better employees and enabling them earn some money now, Anderson and the Rev. William Burney hope the students get even more from the program.

“We feel it’s important not to just give the kids the basic skills of come to work on time, do this task and that task, but we’re trying to get them to think about themselves, their future, where they want to go next,” Anderson says. “Expose them to things that maybe they never tried or done before.”

Burney says the workforce program helps to keep the teenagers occupied in the summer and provide them with experiences they may not get at home. He and Anderson hope it helps them develop their minds and become inspired.

“I’m so glad we took advantage of this opportunity, because this was absolutely amazing,” Anderson says. “We saw the kids working, their faces lighting up and that made me light up, because that is what this is about.”

After attending the Summer of Solar event, students with the Word in Action Ministries Workforce Development program toured YSU.

Among those who attended the program July 18 were youngsters from the YMCA Central Day Camp. While the older children were building the solar-panel homes, younger campers were engaged in other STEM-related activities.

The Summer of Solar program has partnered this summer with numerous organizations. Among them are the Boys and Girls Club, Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispania Americana, Inc., YMCA, YWCA, the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library, Brite Energy Innovators, Harambee, Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology, Inspiring Minds, Youngstown Parks and Recreation and STEM is Us.

Pictured at top: Asar, 9, a student at Martin Luther King Elementary School, works with Madison Copley of the YMCA Central Summer Camp, on his Summer of Solar project.