The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Office of Energy (EPA-OE) is spearheading energy education activities in Illinois elementary and middle schools to bolster students’ knowledge of climate and clean energy topics. In addition, EPA-OE supports robust energy workforce development programs in community colleges and universities to provide opportunities for students to build careers in the clean energy economy.

Preparing Youth for a Clean Energy Future

Fighting climate change and securing a clean energy future are cross-generational challenges, and preparing our youth to tackle them is more important than ever. 

EPA-OE’s education initiatives support general knowledge of key energy topics among Illinoisans and help create a robust pathway for them to join the clean energy workforce. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) State Energy Program (SEP) provided partial support for these activities. 

In 2020, EPA-OE partnered with the Illinois EPA Office of Environmental Education (EPA-EE) and the University of Illinois Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (MSTE) to develop the Environmental Pathways curriculum for upper elementary school and middle school students. 

A student working on an assignment

A student at Monticello Middle School in Monticello, IL, works on an assignment for the Environmental Pathways curriculum. 

Photo courtesy of Illinois Environmental Protection Agency

The curriculum explores key energy and climate topics using a storyline model driven by student questions, such as “How does a bulb light?” and “Where does my food go?” 

These units are aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards that integrate environmental education into required science content to help develop critical thinking skills. Students participating in the energy curriculum learn how electricity is generated, differences between energy sources, impacts of energy generation and use on the environment, and how to use energy more efficiently by building small-scale models.

EPA-OE worked with two schools in the 2021-22 school year to pilot the curriculum, which proved successful and popular among students and teachers alike. 

“[Students] really liked how hands on it was. I really liked how clear the instructions were,” said Pamela Evans, a science teacher at Shiloh Junior High School in Hume, Illinois. 

Unit kits with supplies are available to formal and nonformal educators through the state library system. EPA-OE will continue to promote the curriculum unit throughout the 2022-23 school year at all attended conferences and educator outreach events. 

Clean Energy Education in Community Colleges

Another component of EPA-OE’s energy education strategy involves support for clean energy education and training for community college students. Each year, EPA-OE distributes roughly $2 million to the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN), a consortium of community colleges formed in 2008 with a mission to drive growth of the green economy and workforce. 

Through collaboration between member colleges, IGEN works to expand Illinois’ energy efficiency workforce through living laboratories and hands-on training and support of energy infrastructure improvements at Illinois community colleges. 

During its 2021-2022 project year, EPA-OE leveraged its work and relationship with IGEN to support the launch of Building Energy Education Fundamentals, an interactive energy code training program for community college and second-profession students. The Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC) at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign developed the program with support from competitive funding from DOE. 

Through the training program, SEDAC, in partnership with EPA-OE, Hawaii Office of Energy, and the Nevada Office of Energy, aims to increase knowledge of advanced design and construction practices among instructors and students in community college programs and increase awareness of employment opportunities in building-code-related professions. Through the remaining grant period, SEDAC and state partners are working to increase educator and student participation, as well as to promote the Building Energy Education Fundamentals as a no-cost resource to interested state energy programs.   

Reaching Clean Energy Goals

These two education initiatives—Environmental Pathways and Building Energy Education Fundamentals—support EPA-OE’s goal to provide students with opportunities to develop and enhance their clean energy knowledge and job skills at any point in the trajectory of their education and professional careers.
DOE looks forward to continuing its support for efforts by EPA-OE to shape the future stewards of our planet and equip Illinois’ clean energy workforce with skills to participate in and expand the clean energy economy.  

The DOE State Energy Program provides funding and technical assistance to states, territories, and the District of Columbia to enhance energy security, advance state-led energy initiatives, and increase energy affordability. The State Energy Program emphasizes the state’s role as the decision maker and administrator for program activities within the state that are tailored to their unique resources, delivery capacity, and energy goals.