What do our college students know about electricity and natural gas and how likely are they to consider a career in energy? Industry is interested and wants to find out. Recently, representatives from National Grid, the largest distributor of natural gas in upstate New York and New England posed these and other questions to more than a dozen students enrolled at SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) on the Utica campus. EOP serves low-income, educationally under-prepared students who are often bypassed by higher education.
The utility company, which employs more than 16,000 employees in the Northeast has been convening student focus groups to “open students’ eyes to potential careers and see themselves as a fit at National Grid.” The goal of the activity is to determine how to best market internships and job opportunities to college students.
Over the course of an hour, students at the session provided feedback to National Grid development managers to help answer these questions. Ricardo, an incoming EOP-freshman from Queens whose intended major is mechanical engineering rated his knowledge of energy transmission at 8.5 on a scale of one to ten. But Eric, a first-year EOP student from Staten Island who has set his sights on a degree in civil engineering technology confessed he knew little about the industry, ranking his understanding at “a hard two or three.”
Students readily shared their knowledge of how energy benefited them in their daily lives. Several students expressed concerns about an over-reliance on fossil fuels, global warming and the importance of renewable energy.
When asked about their priorities, students mentioned a need to be passionate about their work, flexible work hours, and benefits. Some even suggested employees be given a discount on their utility bills.
Increasing the percentage of EOP students earning degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines is a priority of SUNY’s Office of Opportunity Programs. Progress is being made, but students of color and first generation college students have historically been underrepresented in STEM fields. “We are grateful for this opportunity to have our students engage with National Grid to gain a greater understanding of STEM and other career opportunities available to them,” said Associate Provost Cheryl Hamilton. In addition to engineers of every type, National Grid employs accountants, business analysts, marketing, instructors and customer service managers, to name just a few of the positions. Students at SUNY have many opportunities to study and learn each of these trades and later take their new skills into a career thanks to partnerships like the one with National Grid.
While it may be too soon to know what career path SUNY Poly’s EOP Class of 2022 will take – one thing is certain… students are eager to get a firsthand look at the company and gain vital work experience through summer internships.
Taras Kufel is the Manager of Digital Engagement at the State University of New York.