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I had the distinct honor of being present at the White House for the announcement of the winners of the annual Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators and President’s Environmental Youth Award. These awards recognize outstanding student leaders in environmental stewardship and K-12 teachers employing innovative approaches to environmental education in their schools. Seventeen teachers and sixty students from across the nation were honored for their contributions to environmental education and stewardship.

As an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, I know the immense value that educators bring to making an impact on society. Every day, at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, we work with teachers and students to engage them in energy literacy, finding new energy education resources, and gaining skills needed to land clean energy jobs. The winners of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators and President’s Environmental Youth Award are inspirational in their success in education, and we celebrate their outstanding work.

Climate change was a clear and present theme in the projects of both teachers and students. As guest speaker and 2009 winner Apoorva Rangan noted “Carbon dioxide emissions are local, but their effects are global. There are over 190 countries on this globe; their boundaries are fixed, but the air that we breathe is very much shared. No matter who contributes how much to the CO2 burden, people of all nations suffer together.”    Since receiving her award she has launched solar energy programs for rural schools in India and Haiti.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy should be particularly proud of all the students’ efforts that incorporate clean energy. Highlights of energy related student efforts include:

  • Deepika Kurup of New Hampshire created a novel light-weight photo catalytic composite that harnesses solar energy for water purification.
  • Luke Colley from Sleepy Hollow High School investigated the economic and scientific feasibility of producing ethanol from apples to power cars in New York State
  • A group of 15 students from Port Townsend High School in Washington State successfully conducted a waste and energy audit of their school and then designed actions to reduce their schools’ carbon footprint.

A host of the teacher awardees efforts also included the teaching and utilization of renewable energy technologies. Highlights of teacher awardees include:

  • Angela Whittaker from Cumberland Virginia developed her own Education for Sustainability Program, which consists of hands-on courses in career and technical education - including a course on integrating renewable energies in the design of green building.
  • Paul Ritter of Pontiac Illinois, developed units of interdisciplinary study that foster collaboration among students and the community to tackle real-world environmental issues.  Just one of the issues Paul and his students are working to address is developing a comprehensive plan to lower the energy consumption of the entire city of Pontiac.  
  • Bret Sutterly of Turlock, California, received his award for 35 years of dedication in the growth of environmental education and stewardship in his local community and school. Bret uses grant opportunities to develop new programs such as the creation of the Walnut Energy Center which educates students on energy using functioning solar and wind arrays.

The amazing work of students and teachers was truly inspiring for all in attendance. If you wish to be inspired as I was, I recommend you give all the winners' accomplishments a read. 

Read more about this year's award winners here.

Also, go to to learn about the Department of Energy’s work to advance clean energy technologies, educational resources, and workforce development activities.