When students talk, United States Secretaries listen: a big leap forward for ACE

ACE Alumni

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June 16, 2011

When ACE first started, we began with the belief that high school students could genuinely influence the climate debate. We didn’t just say it to make ourselves feel better about the unfortunate reality of climate change – we knew deep down that this underrepresented population had potential to make a significant impact if given the knowledge, tools and inspiration to take charge of their collective future and the fate of the earth.

We created a program that targeted this demographic, designing a 45-minute presentation on climate science that turns an intangible, daunting issue into something that that has hands-on action and a feeling of ownership attached. We like to call it climate science that sticks. From there, we created a follow-up program that engages students at the most basic level and supports them up a leadership ladder to grow into young spokespeople for their generation.

Everything looked great on paper, and we saw many sparks and moments of inspiration through the past two years of working with 860,000+ students nationwide. But on Monday morning, this initial notion that we set out to prove – that young people could be change makers – became a reality.

Two Secretaries, multiple Directors, CEOs and energy industry leaders were looking to high school students for the answers. I had the honor of escorting Shreya Indukuri and Daniela Lapidous, two ACE Youth Advisory Board members, to Washington, D.C. to a White House event on grid modernization, to see this in real-time.

Their story is fairly simple, but had phenomenal results. On Monday they told this story (starts at 14:40) at the Eisenhower Executive Building, sharing a stage with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu; Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; Chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley; and Director of the White House Office of Science & Technology, John Holdren. Secretary Chu was completely impressed by their effort – explaining that they did what the Department of Energy had attempted to do, but for a quarter of the price. We’ve already received follow-up from his Staff asking for more info on where they bought the materials, what groups they collaborated with and the steps they took to get their project done.

Long and short of it: our federal government is looking to two high school students for answers!
The crowd of seasoned industry leaders came up to us after explaining that Shreya and Daniela were the most refreshing, inspirational part of the entire event, and that they’d never seen anything like this at a high-level White House event in the past.

So what’s next? Well, we’ll certainly be reaching out to share more information on their project with the Department of Energy, in the hopes of mimicking this project at other schools nationwide. We’re also deep in the middle of program development at ACE, in the hopes of having similar students emerge as leaders in other areas related to curbing carbon emissions – including waste reduction. Tune in later in the summer to see some exciting new projects that students can take on in any corner of the country.

As As for me, I’m completely re-inspired and recommitted to my everyday work. Shreya and Daniela’s success was a product of a true team effort by many ACE Staff members – from the first Assembly given two years ago, to the Staff who helped administer their grant to those who helped train and support the girls in their public speaking and project development skills. It’s a true pleasure to work with such a dedicated Staff, and I can’t wait to see the next set of students emerge.

So, Monday was the Eisenhower Executive Building. Next time? We’re going to the Oval Office.

ACE Alumni

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