Three Charleston High School students travel to Eastern Illinois University every week where they are learning much more than just the ins and outs of sustainable energy.
“Our students are being challenged and inspired to grow as researchers and scientists,” said Jan Easter, a science teacher at Charleston High School. “But, they are also learning that sometimes they will fail, but they have to keep going.”
Every Wednesday morning CHS students drive to EIU to chat with fellow undergraduate and graduate students about sustainable energy and receive input about their individual projects as part of the CHS’s new Renewable Energy class.
CHS administrators and Peter Liu, a graduate coordinator of the master’s in sustainable energy program at EIU, collaborated to create the class, which started in the fall of 2013.
The class offers CHS students the chance to receive input and guidance from EIU professors and students. It also provides the high school students a sneak peek into college life.
“EIU professors and students are wonderful,” Easter said. “They are supportive, they provide suggestions, and they are very patient.”
Right now, the class meets in Klehm Hall, where EIU’ s gasifier is housed along with other research projects regarding sustainable energy. Next year, the class will use the new Center for Clean Energy Research and Education (CENCERE) building next to the Renewable Energy Center.
The CENCERE building is designed to provide research and teaching for biomass storage with a processing area, room for the laboratory-scale gasifier and an analytical lab. Community members and local businesses will even get the opportunity to connect with students and faculty through an ‘idea incubator’ for future projects focused on sustainable energy.
“The Charleston High School class is only the start of the collaboration between EIU and the community in regards to sustainable energy,” Liu said. “The idea incubator will allow the community to come in and use our facility and professional knowledge to help foster their own projects and businesses.”
“The idea incubator will create an exchange of ideas and knowledge for our community starting with the youth, like the CHS students, to professional and business owners with sustainable energy always on the forefront,” he continued.
CHS students are already starting to exchange ideas with EIU professionals by researching and creating their own sustainable energy projects such as creating their own gasifier or researching biomass sources. A gasifier takes organic biomass material and transforms the material into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The power from the process is a source of renewable energy.
“It’s really nice to work with EIU because I get so many new thoughts and ideas,” said Emily Bumpus, a junior CHS student. “It’s my favorite part about this class. They gave me ideas for my gasifier and now I want to go back alter mine more.”
Bumpus spent her first semester in the class researching how to make a gasifier similar to the one found at EIU’s Renewable Energy Center. Then she created her own mini version.
Now, Bumpus is even looking into biomass energy sources like Indian grass, but she has to wait to look into the source until it can be harvested in late summer or fall. Throughout the class, Bumpus said she can always rely on the students and professors of EIU to help give her input and guide her through the ups and downs of scientific discovery.
“Even if your project does not work out at first, it is trial and error, and you have to keep going,” she said.
Sam Stowell, a senior at CHS, said he experienced a couple of his own obstacles and downfalls with his project on quadcopters, but he knows he has the guidance of EIU professionals to fall back on.
“The biggest thing I have taken from this class is you are going to fail,” Stowell said. “But if you keep working at something, you will find a way around it.”
His project on quadcopters, helicopters with a central unit and four arms, explores how quadcopters can be used to transport items using renewable energy. From Stowell’s idea, EIU students have even decided to conduct their own research on quadcopters. “It’s really cool how EIU is researching quadcopters now, because of my project,” Stowell said.
All three students said the class has helped them grow as researchers and scientists, but Katie Jo Pierson, a senior CHS student, said the class has been especially important for her.
“I learned a lot about myself and that I can do this stuff,” Pierson said. “At first, I didn’t think I would be smart enough for this class, but I definitely have put my full potential forward and it has helped me better myself.”