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Learn, explore, energize and shine, words that describe a youthful community of discipline and service. 

Student ambassadors and former summer 2022 interns for the Center for Energy Education, the self-named Radiant Rays, continue to beam about their renewable energy studies and program experiences. 

Together they power clean energy innovation, strive for educational growth and seek workplace development.

The Empowering Young Women in Solar program, the first of its kind welcoming high school juniors and seniors in northeastern North Carolina, allowed 10 young women of color to explore clean energy career options, meet industry mentors and visit universities as well as industry sites. 

Upon completion of their five-week tutelage, each was awarded a $1,500 scholarship. 

“While the center served as the launch site and headquarters for this learning experience, industry partnerships cemented the program’s success,” said Mozine Lowe, C4EE’s executive director. “Geenex Solar, EDF Renewables, Engie, Roanoke Electric Cooperative, Pine Gate Renewables, Duke Energy as well as the North Carolina Justice Center, among other nonprofit organizations, recognized the value these youth represent in generating future momentum in our clean energy future.” 

Lowe said that the industry partners recognized their shared goal was not only to encourage diversity but also to equip the young women with the tools to become solar energy professionals. 

Expanding career awareness and opportunities in rural areas is an integral part of C4EE’s mission, said John Ledgerwood, C4EE’s education consultant. 

During the early weeks of their tenure, they served as mentors to middle schoolers who participated in the center’s summer STEM camps. They led fun renewable energy projects and helped them perform solar experiments. 

The United States Department of Labor Statistics and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council reported women represented only 30 percent of the 231,474 solar industry employees in 2020, compared to the total United States labor force represented by women, which was 52 percent, according to the 2020 Solar Jobs Census.

“These numbers reflect the lack of women in the clean energy workforce and the Radiant Rays, through the program’s education and preparation, are pioneers of gender equity in this robust industry,” said Whitney Sessoms, C4EE’s workforce and education manager. “These young women represent just a fraction of potential future leaders in solar fields.”

In addition to the hands-on learning, field trips were an integral part of the experience. 

Lowe wanted these young women of color to walk the solar farms, sit in the boardrooms and cultivate relationships with industry mentors who could share their career paths of leadership. 

“We traveled the state and even visited the EPA in Washington, DC,” Lowe said. “Our learning adventures enlightened these young women to the range of opportunities they could pursue and showed them the true potential of their professional success.”

The young women interns noted the bus tour was a classroom on wheels, that it highlighted the promise of clean energy and the roles they could play within it.

“In meetings, we got to know the industry professionals,” said Halifax County Early College senior Janine Williams, a Radiant Ray who continues her service as the center’s receptionist and fall semester intern. “They would tell us a little about themselves and what they do. Then we’d ask questions about their careers, such as how a day goes for them and how their work improved and impacted the world. We also asked what they were doing within their communities and how they were educating the youth and incorporating diversity.” 

She added that industry professionals also visited the center to meet with them in person and via Zoom.

Now back in school, the Radiant Rays regularly return to the center to dispense information, perform community service and absorb opportunities throughout a myriad of solar industry pathways. 

From creating and maintaining the group’s website to serving as advocates at their schools and communities, they strive to grow their solar energy proficiencies.

The young women return weekly to the center, located on the site of a 235-acre, 20-megawatt solar farm at the former site of the Halifax County Airport, to build upon their education and advocacy efforts. 

Under the guidance of the center’s education and community manager, the Radiant Rays regularly meet at C4EE to plan and lead service projects. 

Their current project is facilitating a workshop at an upcoming annual center event, SolarFEST 2022, that will showcase clean energy initiatives within the industry and across the state.

“These young women are provided perspective to communicate and prepare for our future workforce,” said Daria Johnson, C4EE education and community manager. “They have created a website and a Google drive in which they can all provide input no matter the time or distance. Despite their youth, they understand their potential in the future of clean energy and work to provide valuable contributions.”

Weldon High School senior Mahkayla Hammie noted the summer experience cemented her motivation to explore and succeed in clean energy fields like engineering, agriculture, cybersecurity, GIS mapping and solar installation.

“During my five weeks at the center, I was introduced to the tools for success within this industry,” said Williams. “We Radiant Rays, young women of color who are beginning our educational journeys into the real world, now have a direction, and soon momentum, as we seek our futures.” 

The interns are: Ma’Chiya Arrington, Rakeya Brinkley, Jaslyn McKinney and Williams ⏤ seniors at Halifax County Early College; Mikayla Watson, a senior at Roanoke Rapids Early College; Hammie, a senior at Weldon High School; and Shamyra Wright, a senior at KIPP Pride High School. 

Anyah Brown is a first-year student at St. Augustine’s University. Jamiya Cabiness and Zakeiryh Perry are first-year students at UNC-Greensboro.