As college students around the country anxiously awaited a spring break of traveling and relaxing from school, Jamie Poston was just as excited to do something completely different.
“Wow, you’re literally making the world a better place,” Richard Kelley, Poston’s computer science and engineering professor, said when she shared her plans.
Poston, a junior at the University of Nevada, Reno, was gearing up for her third Solar Spring Break. Hosted by the nonprofit GRID Alternatives and sponsored by Wells Fargo Foundation, Solar Spring Break gives college students the opportunity to install solar panels at the homes of low-income families.
“You get to help the community, you get to help the environment, and you get to learn about the solar industry,” Poston said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Poston was one of nearly 200 students from 15 colleges and universities to participate in Solar Spring Break 2017. This year, students spent their winter or spring breaks from school working on homes in California, Colorado, and Washington, D.C. Poston and nine other students from the University of Nevada, Reno, worked on two houses in Atascadero, California.
Poston first learned about Solar Spring Break during her freshman year, and has served as a leader for the university’s Solar Spring Break group for the past two years.
“I had previously gone on a summer service trip through a local high school where I volunteered, but I hadn’t done anything as hands-on as this before,” said Poston, who is pursuing a degree in computer science and engineering with a minor in mathematics. “It doesn’t have a lot of relevance to computer science, but it involves applying the engineering principles I’ve learned about in a hands-on way.”
As the students provide underserved communities with access to solar power, they’re also helping to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, said Erica Mackie, CEO and co-founder of GRID Alternatives.
“Solar Spring Break gives students who are passionate about renewable energy the chance to see solar technology in action, building more resilient communities,” Mackie said. “We’re helping to shape the climate leadership of tomorrow.”
Poston said she hadn’t realized that solar power was much of an option in Nevada. But thanks to Solar Spring Break, she’s inspired to incorporate more climate-conscious actions into her life.
“If I end up buying a house, I’d like to try using solar power,” she said. “I’d also like to apply sustainable practices like composting and reducing my carbon footprint. That’s a major takeaway from this experience.”
The most rewarding part of the experience, Poston said, was meeting the homeowners and seeing how much the solar panels will reduce their electricity bills — and ultimately transform their lives.
“Seeing the change you make in people’s lives is really inspiring,” she said. “One of the homeowners built his house with grants and assistance from a housing organization. He and others in the neighborhood started from nothing and have built their own community. It’s amazing to see what they’ve done and how we could help.”