Latino Youth Combine Green Energy with Philanthropy


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By Wayne Jebian

Derrick Cardona, a student at Hartford High School’s Academy of Engineering and Green Technology (AoEGT), came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico just a decade ago. Other than a vague interest in engineering, he had no idea what he wanted to do for a major in college, let alone a career, until this fall. One thing he was sure of: “My dream was to help other people that need help,” he said with determination.
Call it being at the right place at the right time. This past semester, Cardona joined a team of AoEGT students who designed and built a wind turbine that was shipped to the mountains of Nepal, to power a school that otherwise had no access to electricity.
It took more than a village to make it all happen. Participants and funders in the project included the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), United Technologies Corporation (UTC), the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program (CPEP), and the Werth Family Foundation. The winners were students on both sides of the world.
“I don’t really like science, but you have to learn it for engineering,” said Cardona. It was the hands-on experience of this project that convinced him that a career in engineering would make all of the math and science classes worth it. “I want to do mechanical engineering and architecture. I want to have those two skills as a background for my career.”
This is exactly how it’s supposed to work, explained Dayl Walker, Program Manager for CBIA. “It’s very important to get kids interested in these kinds of subjects early on, because if they get exposed through hands-on, project-based learning like this, they get really excited. Then they’re more likely to pursue that in college.”
“This is the wave of the next 25-50 years,” said the school’s principal, Michael Maziarz. “All of the focus, all of the jobs that many of these kids will be going to school for will be centered around green technology. They’re going to have the skills not only to get into the colleges and get the jobs, but those are the jobs that everyone’s going to be looking to hire for.”
Governor Dannel P. Malloy has been sounding the drumbeat for a green economy since his last election campaign; however, a recent spate of announcements signaled that “green” has become than a buzz-word. Malloy has just announced plans to fund and create 56 electric vehicle charging stations, and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) named Connecticut America’s fifth most energy efficient state, on the basis of the governor’s energy strategy.
Green technology has become increasingly important to school’s curriculum since Maziarz came aboard a little over a year ago. Isiah Cabrera, another student of Puerto Rican background who worked on the wind turbine project, described the school’s growing environmental consciousness: “When I first came here, we didn’t really do anything with the green technology. Then we started recycling more. The teachers started talking about environmental stuff; now I’m taking the environmental science classes.”
“We’ve always had a strong emphasis on our engineering program, but also really trying to push the green technology as part of our theme,” said Maziarz. “We started with the implementation of our Green Team, which is run by Mr. Mangus. We’ve done an Earth Day here, Green Apple Day here, and a community clean-up.”
Science teacher David Mangus described himself as “the person who believed.” “I was looking for an authentic project where we could get them interested in something that could help somebody less fortunate than we are,” he said. “This just happened to come along, and it was an incredible opportunity. I jumped right on it.”
“One of the courses we added this year for the first time is environmental studies,” said Maziarz. “The course is a college-level curriculum and the kids get college credit for it.”
Would students Cardona and Cabrera consider a college major in Environmental Studies? “Sure,” comes their lukewarm answer. However, Cabrera’s tone picks up in enthusiasm when he describes the Academy’s upcoming projects. “I’ve heard we sill be doing a water purification system in Costa Rica, and another wind turbine somewhere,” he said.
In addition to being a learning opportunity for the students, the wind turbine project has generated positive notice for the school. “Simply put, the story is inspiring,” said state senator Art Linares (R – Westbrook), who himself helped found Greenskies Energy, a solar power contracting company. “I have brought the story to the attention of our Clean Energy Task Force chair, and I hope that our panel can meet with AoEGT students to talk about their work firsthand and discuss how we can replicate their success around the state.”
None of this has been lost on Governor Malloy, either. His press secretary, Samaia Hernandez, relayed the following message to the school: “Hartford’s Academy of Engineering and Green Technology – its students, educators and administrators – are to be commended for staying ahead of the curve by using partnerships and innovative ways to engage students and connect the dots between training and workforce – while also expanding green energy in the world.”
“This is wonderful!” reacted Derrick Cardona to all of the positive attention. Then he asked if the school could get the Governor’s statement on a plaque.
Project Video, “From Hartford to the Himalayas”