Agriculture & Sustainable Energy STEM Career Academy Tricities

Benton Conservation District (BCD) is a proud recipient of the Friends of NACD Grant in 2023.  BCD partnered with Benton PUD, Washington Grain Commission, Franklin PUD, Grant PUD, Energy Northwest, Franklin Conservation District, Walla Walla Conservation District, Pacific Northwest National Labs, Washington State University Tri-Cities, City of Richland Energy Services, CHS Sun Basin Growers, Educational Services District 123, and the Foundation for Water and Energy Education to develop the Energy and Ag Career Academy for high school students. This program grew out of the need to build a diverse workforce that will tackle the issues of modern agriculture, conservation, climate change, and clean energy through meaningful, local careers. About 1/3 of the jobs in Benton County are connected to agriculture. The Department of Energy recently announced that our community will be one of only seven clean hydrogen energy hubs to be established.

A STEM Career Academy student flies his drone.

The purpose of the Energy and Ag STEM Career Academy is to offer an opportunity for high school students to explore multiple careers, identify a career of interest, and partner with industry professionals and academic advisors to develop a personalized career plan for each student that is unique to each student’s goals. Students learned how trade schools, apprenticeships, internships, community colleges, and 2 and 4-year college degrees can prepare them for well-paying, local careers in the clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and conservation sectors.

Students were issued hard hats and safety glasses during trips to employer work sites like Ice Harbor Dam, US Army Corps of Engineers.

In the inaugural year, 16 high school students from 11 high schools representing 6 different school districts participated. Students built hydropower models and competed to generate the most electricity, constructed and flew drones, customed and raced solar cars, and took field trips to employer worksites including Ice Harbor Dam, CHS Sun Basin Grower grain storage, utility districts, PNNL campus, WSU Tri-Cities, and Columbia Generating Station. Industry professionals and academic advisors partnered with the students to guide them through exercises to help them form future career plans.

A parent of a participating student reported, “the STEM Academy was fantastic. Jonah had a great week. As a parent, it was incredible to see him light up as he is explaining to my wife and I about the drone he made and wanting to recreate his solar powered car to go faster. Being able to physically go places and see firsthand how the cooling towers worked will be something he will never forget. What an incredible experience!”

BCD has a long-standing, established outreach program designed for 4-5th grade students; we used the funding from Friends of NACD to expand our district’s educational scope by creating a new program developed for high school students within an hour of the Tri-Cities, WA. Thank you Friends of NACD for the funding to start this new and exciting program! We anticipate expanding and advancing the program content for next year to include an additional day of education (making it a 5-day event instead of 4 days) and more exciting topics such as utilizing drones for precision agriculture and robots for monitoring and picking produce.


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