Students learn a lot of theory in the classroom, but what happens when you turn the light of that knowledge onto real-life situations? Enter the Junior Practicum. Practicums are classes that marry real-world problems with classroom knowledge. At Denison, students apply their learning to local issues, and work within the community to research and implement the best strategies to solve actual problems.
In the fall of 2017, the ENVS Junior Practicum course worked with the Licking County Concerned Citizens group to find ways to promote solar energy through education. The main focus was work with the YES (Youth Engaged in Service) Club in downtown Newark.
The YES Club serves a group of students, aged 11 to 18, on a daily basis. Staff and volunteers provide mentoring, tutoring, life-skills and character development sessions, along with a meal.
In recent years, money has been raised to purchase and install 42 solar panels on the YES Clubhouse. The goals are to save on energy bills, redirect that money toward more tangible benefits for the students, and promote the benefits of solar energy to the whole community.
Over the course of a semester, the class researched solar installation projects, educational signage, and solar education curricula to determine the best approach for the YES Club to engage with and learn about their new solar panels.
In the end, the practicum suggested four options: a solar education curriculum for the YES Club, an interpretive sign with solar panel information for the outside of the YES Club, a collaborative mural, co-created with YES Club kids, and a community event that would promote solar energy usage in downtown Newark with the help of the YES Club students.
The students developed the curriculum by the end of the semester. The signage and mural were completed in the summer of 2018. Katie Dengg ‘19, an English major with a minor in psychology and a concentration in narrative journalism, reported on the project, and her article was featured on the front page of the Newark Advocate.
“Kids at the YES Club were asked to draw pictures that they believe represented solar energy. Those pictures were then formed into a single piece by California artist, Gayel Childress. Childress has traveled from Mexico to Mayan villages to Haiti on similar missions, but she spent the last week here in Newark helping the kids bring their ideas to life.
“‘You never know who you are going to touch with art,’ said Childress, as to the importance of this piece.
“While Childress, as well as a number of volunteers, were present for the week-long painting spree, it was the kids doing much of the painting themselves.
“‘The kids were absolutely amazing,’ said Tracee Laing, from Healing Art Missions, who spent the week working with the young painters. ‘This project is something they will be able to take pride in.’”