World of Energy educates the Upstate – even during spring break

It’s said spring break is a kid’s best friend – and a parent’s worst nightmare.

At the World of Energy – Oconee Nuclear Station’s education center – our goal is to change that conundrum.

That’s why each year, as thousands of kids across the South Carolina upstate take a break from books and pencils, the World of Energy partners with the Duke Energy Foundation and iMAGINE Upstate by hosting a series of events that give kids in our community hands-on experience with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

First, some background: iMAGINE Upstate is an activity of SCCMS, a unit of the College of Engineering and Science at Clemson University. More than a festival, iMAGINE Upstate is a weeklong series of crowdsourced programs and signature events designed to promote cultural and economic development with a celebration and showcase of STEM, innovation and entrepreneurial activity in Upstate South Carolina.

Our part in all of this is simple, and what we do best: we invite kids to come enjoy the interactive and informative exhibits at the World of Energy. Whether knowingly or not, they come away having learned something about the world around them.

Each day during spring break, dozens of kids poured into the World of Energy. On the first day, they learned about the science of solar energy—and got to build their own miniature, solar-powered classrooms.

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Next, we played with robots. Oconee County’s Robotics Team 343 Metal in Motion provided demonstrations of its latest robots, from one that shot T-shirts into the air (and, accidentally, onto our roof!) to ones that shot basketballs into a hoop.

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Ice cream day was a huge hit. We taught kids how salt lowers the melting temperature of ice, allowing them to freeze and harden heavy cream, sugar and vanilla ice cream using only Ziploc bags and a little elbow grease to create a delicious treat.

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As responsible stewards of our natural environment, Duke Energy is focused on teaching children how to better care for the world around them. That’s why, on our final day, we taught kids the importance of protecting our lakes and rivers from stormwater runoff—and what can happen if we aren’t fully aware of the impacts we have on the water we drink.

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Finally, we capped it all off by participating in a street fair in downtown Greenville, South Carolina. There, we brought along an electric-powered car; our Vandegraaf generator (fun with static electricity!); a demonstration on how to conserve electricity; and Oconee Nuclear Station’s very own robot, which we use to inspect high-radiation areas in which workers should limit their exposure.

So why do all of this? Duke Energy has an interest in the next generation, and in training its future workforce. Though the United States has historically been a leader in STEM fields, fewer students have been focusing on these topics recently. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of high school students are interested in a STEM career and have proven a proficiency in mathematics. Currently, nearly 28 percent of high school freshmen declare an interest in a STEM-related field, but 57 percent of these students will lose interest by the time they graduate from high school.

In just two years, projections estimate the need for 8.65 million workers in STEM-related jobs. The manufacturing sector faces a shortage of employees – nearly 600,000 workers – with the necessary skills.

Which brings us back to the World of Energy. While our mission is to educate our neighbors about the importance of the Oconee Nuclear Station to our community’s growth and continued vitality, we do so much more. We see ourselves as a vital part of the entire education of a child in STEM fields.

Even during spring break.